California Lawmakers Target Airport Security Line Skipping Services in New Bill

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 23, 2024

A first-of-its-kind airport bill in the United States is seeking passage through the California legislature. If passed this bill would ban the ability of security screening company Clear and others to allow customers to skip security lines in California airports.

Supporters of the bill argue that these companies allowing customers to skip airport security lines ahead of other travelers contribute to inequality and aren’t fair to everyone.

SB-1372

Senate Bill 1372 is sponsored by California Democrat Senator Josh Newman. It was introduced to the Senate on February 16 and had its committee hearing set for Tuesday. The bill aims to institute a ban on airports making private security screening agreements with third parties.

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The California capitol building in Sacremento seen at an upward angle.

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“This bill would prohibit a public airport that provides commercial services, beginning January 1, 2025, from entering into a new agreement that authorizes a private third-party vendor that provides expedited security screening to use the standard security lane or the Transportation Security Administration PreCheck security lane,” reads the bill’s text.

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Basic Equity Issue

Senator Newman made comments to CBS outlining his problems with the current traveling experience, citing inequity among people as a major motivation behind the legislation.

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People in line waiting at an airport.

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“It’s a basic equity issue when you see people subscribed to a concierge service being escorted in front of people who have waited a long time to get to the front of TSA line,” Newman said. “Everyone is beaten down by the travel experience, and if Clear escorts a customer in front of you and tells TSA, ‘Sorry, I have someone better,’ it’s really frustrating.”

Clear’s Service

Clear currently charges its members $189 per year for the service of verifying their identities at airports and escorting them through TSA checkpoints ahead of other travelers. 

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An airplane on an airport tarmac with people and cars in front of it.

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“Clear checks” are popular among frequent airline travelers to save time and the service operates in about 50 airports across the United States as well as other places like sports stadiums.

TSA Wait Times

The time that people are waiting in security lines to have themselves checked by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers has been a consistent complaint among airline travelers for a long time.

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A TSA officer in San Diego talks with Homeland Security John Kelly.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Wikimedia

Over the years the TSA hoped to address this complaint by instituting their own PreCheck system. However, some customers last year found that the PreCheck process actually slowed down their air travel routine amidst a spike in traveling during the holidays.

Precheck Program

The TSA boasts that 92% of its PreCheck customers wait less than five minutes and 99% wait less than 10 minutes. However, this number is down from 2016, when 99% of its customers waited less than five minutes to get through security.

TSA employees stand ina cricle and talk while meeting Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Wikimedia

This program does not allow travelers to skip physical security inspections, which have become more time-consuming in recent years due to new 3-D scanning machines that often take longer to get people through.

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Comments By Clear

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Clear iterated its commitment to its customers in California while declining to comment on the possible ban.

People moving through an airport.

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“We are proud to partner with nine airports across California — creating hundreds of jobs, sharing more than $13 million in annual revenue with our California airport partners and serving nearly 1 million Californians,” the company said “We are always working with our airline and airport partners as well as local, state, and federal governments to ensure all travelers have a safer, easier checkpoint experience.

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Clear Still Allowed

In an attempt to head off criticism of his bill, Newman emphasized that Clear is still allowed to operate its own separate security lines.

A large jet flies over a busy airport in the daytime above other landed planes, green grass, and tarmac

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“The bill doesn’t seek to punish Clear or put it out of business. It wants to create a better traffic flow so customers aren’t intersecting with the general public and causing a moment of friction that is so frustrating to the average traveler,” Newman said. “All it does is up the tension in the line.”

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Bill Supporters

In a bipartisan show, Republican Senator Janet Nguyen put their support behind this bill. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) as well as the union that represents Transportation Security Officers in San Jose, Sacramento, and Oakland have also voiced support for the legislation.

An airplane sitting at the terminal.

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Supporters of the ban hope that the restrictions on third-party security companies can reduce the feelings of frustration people already have when trying to navigate the process of airline travel.

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AFA-CWA Comments

President Sara Nelson of the AFA-CWA was happy with the potential of the bill, hoping it would ensure everyone gets equal treatment while traveling.

A photo taken down the aisle of a commercial airplane. You can see passengers' arms and the blurred form of a flight attendant at the end of the aisle.

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Nelson said the bill “would restore equal access and treatment at the airport security checkpoint by requiring companies like Clear to operate in a dedicated security lane, separate from general travelers and TSA PreCheck members.”

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TSA Officer Union Comments

President of AFGE Local 2120 TSA officer union James Murdock labels the service offered by Clear as a luxury upcharge that directly harms other travelers.

A plane rests near the terminal of the San Diego Airport.

Source: Mertbiol/Wikimedia

“Clear is nothing more than the luxury resale of upcharge of space in the airport security queue, where those who pay can skip the line at the direct expense of every other traveler,” Murdock said. “While Clear may save time for its paying customers, non-customers suffer from Clear’s aggressive sales tactics and longer security queues while they enter an essential security screening process.”

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Dignity in Travel

The bill is opposed by many of the major airlines like Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, and more. These airlines argue that banning companies like Clear will create a worse experience for customers at the airport and hurt their ability to do business.

Passengers sit in the seat of an airplane while listening to a safety explanation.

Source: Suhyeon Choi/Unsplash

Senator Newman disagrees, thinking the travel experience will be improved, saying “It’s about dignity in the travel experience of people who don’t have money to pay for upsell services. “If you have money, by all means, but that business shouldn’t be at the expense of the average traveler.”

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