Spark Invests Big in Startup that Helps Airline Passengers Zip Through Security Lines

8/20/08Follow @bbuderi

Right now, if you want to zip through security lines at major airports you have three basic options: travel at weird hours when few people are in the airport; shell out big bucks for a first-class ticket (provided the airport has a separate line for first class); or sign up for a Clear pass (or a similar pass from a competing company) that verifies your identity and makes it easy to get through lines at a growing number of airports around the country.

Although option 2 sounds nice, option 3 is probably the most practical and affordable. Right now, Clear is offered at some 18 airports—none of them named Logan or Sea-Tac (in Xconomy’s home cities). But it might be coming to those airports soon. And to help Clear expand to more locations, faster—as well as non-airport venues like sporting events—Boston’s Spark Capital has taken the lead in a $44.4 million investment in the New York-based security firm, the companies announced today. Syncom Venture Partners also joined the round, as did repeat investors Lockheed Martin, Baker Capital, GE Security, and Lehman Brothers. With the new funding, Clear has raised a total of $116.4 million.

Clear works on an annual membership basis. Enrollment starts online, where you provide some basic biographical information. Then, if you receive government approval for the program, you are invited to a Clear center (they currently operate in 11 states), where you must provide two forms of government-issued identification (a passport and driver’s license, say) and then have your fingerprints and iris images captured—and your picture taken. Only then do you pay your $128 annual membership fee, and in return you get a Clear card that allows access to special security lanes, where your identify is verified biometrically.

Clear, with some 200,000 members, claims its lanes are 30 percent faster than regular security lanes, and according to the release, the company “plans to improve that even more through enhanced technology which, once approved by the US Government, could allow cardholders not to have to remove shoes, outer garments or laptops as they pass through the security checkpoint.”

Right now, Clear has two main competitors, FLO Corp. and Vigilant Solutions, according to a spokesman. The cards from the three programs all work at the same special security lanes. Clear plans to use its new cash influx to recruit more members in its current markets and also expand to new markets around the U.S..

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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