The Beginning of the End of CLEAR: United Rolls Out Facial Recognition for TSA PreCheck

United Airlines has implemented “Touchless ID,” a facial recognition system aimed at expediting travel for TSA PreCheck members. Currently available at Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles International airports, the technology allows participants to go through security and baggage check-ins without having to show ID or a boarding pass.

How Touchless ID Works

To utilize Touchless ID, United passengers must enroll in the airline’s app using their passport and Known Traveler Number. Users opt-in to facial recognition ID verification when booking flights from supported airports. TSA PreCheck members flying on United can then verify their identity at security checkpoints and baggage drops simply by scanning their faces instead of showing boarding passes or physical IDs.

At O’Hare only, travelers can also use Touchless ID for “automated checked baggage,” though there’s not a lot of detail on what this actually means. I’m assuming it involves passengers scanning their faces to get bag tags, but I might be missing something because I’m not sure how that’s more convenient than scanning a boarding pass at a kiosk.

Expansion Plans

For now, Touchless ID is limited to United passengers 18 and over traveling alone with single-customer reservations, but United intends to extend biometric ID functionality to more routes and airports soon. The airline also plans to enable facial recognition for supplementary customer groups whenever possible.

Big Potential Impacts on CLEAR

I’d be pretty nervous if I worked at CLEAR right now. If Touchless ID spreads to other airlines and airports–and I have to imagine it will–it will completely obviate CLEAR. Touchless ID offers effectively the exact same service CLEAR does–ID and boarding-pass free security using a biometric scan–without the additional cost. It actually seems slightly more convenient because it can also be used to check-in baggage.

All that, along with increased scrutiny after employees let unregistered travelers bypass TSA ID checks, does not bode well for CLEAR. Presumably, some folks will sign up for CLEAR as long as premium credit cards continue to offer free membership, but I can’t imagine card issuers will want to continue paying CLEAR for a perk that cardholders can already get with Pre-Check. 

  1. I’ve used Clear twice and there never is a line to jump. They just walk us to the person at the booth and we STILL show our IDs and scan our boarding pass to get through so I’m confused.

    Also. Does thr security point at clear always pre check you through or would they take you to another lane without prencheck if you didn’t have Precheck?
    Bc I have precheck and they process me right there, but what about people without precheck? Would they check in right there with me the same way as me? Bc how would the agents know on the otherside and how would I know which line to get in??? Confused

  2. Clear’s real benefit has always been the ability to cut the security line. As long as they can offer that a decent percentage of the time, they’ll survive.

    (Although I will say that I find the pre-check line just as short, if not shorter, then Clear’s at least half the time)

      1. Clear will still be the go to option for getting to the front of the line. With the number of people who now have pre check, the pre check can be longer than the non pre check. (My mom pre check GF has beat me the last two flights).

  3. United owns a stake in Clear so I can’t see it disappearing… and American’s digital ID program at DCA and Delta’s (another Clear stakeholder) at various hubs for quite some time sure hasn’t had any impact on Clear…

    1. I think few people currently know about Delta’s or AA’s programs, but I think as they spread to more airports and are marketed more (they’re currently both considered “pilot programs” and as far as I can tell have barely been advertised), they’ll begin to erode CLEAR membership.

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