20090623 clear card 18
An enrollment kiosk for Clear Card, a frequent traveler security pre-screening service, is seen at Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan National Airport. - 


Kai Ryssdal: There was another aviation delay today. The company that ran the Clear pass program went out of business overnight. Clear's 250,000-plus frequent fliers paid for a faster trip through security at airports from Orlando to San Francisco. Parent company Verified Identity Pass blamed its demise on not being able to renegotiate its debt. But Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports there were some other problems, too.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Kevin O'Connor is a frequent flyer who was a satisfied customer of Clear.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: You show up, give 'em a fingerprint, you show 'em your clear pass, and then you go to the line. You still had to do the shoes off and that sort of thing, but it was virtually no waiting at all. It was just great.

But that wasn't enough for some Clear customers who felt they had been promised an even smoother experience, says Benet Wilson who reports on the airline business for Aviation Week.

BENET WILSON: They were supposed to have these scanners that would have allowed you to keep shoes on, coat on and laptop in the bag. But the Transportation Security Administration wasn't happy with the clear rates, no pun intended, on those scanners. And I think people felt at that point, well, this is not what I signed up for.

Also, Clear was unable to move into some big airports, like Chicago's O'Hare and Miami International. One reason: many major airlines, with their own bypass lines for premiere customers, lobbied against Clear. Paul Ruden at the American Society of Travel Agents says most travelers didn't think the service was worth $200 a year.

PAUL RUDEN: It was a nice, nifty idea. But it faced too many obstacles, was too slow evolving to reach the critical mass that you have to have.

Clear's founder, is entrepreneur Steven Brill. He left the company earlier this year. But says he's surprised Clear couldn't settle with its creditors. There are still two small companies that offer speedier screenings, but they're only at a handful of airports like Reno and Jacksonville.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.