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Getting through airport security with CLEAR – My experience

Posted on 11 December 2012 by David

Airport security with CLEAR, what is it?

I received an email the other day that had a headline “CLEAR is now at Westchester airport!”. Having seen a CLEAR entry point at security while flying out of SFO (San Francisco) earlier this year, the email peaked my interest as I was going be flying out of HPN very frequently in the near future.

If you’ve never heard of CLEAR before, the idea is simple.  It is a commercial endeavor aimed at allowing you to bypass the long ID and boarding pass lines at the security checkpoints in airport terminals.   They give you the means to shoot past the long lines and go straight into the screening area.

Great in theory but good in practice?

CLEAR doesn’t operate at a lot of airports so the benefit is, I think, better for business travelers who fly out of the same airport frequently. Since I happen to be flying out of HPN (Westchester airport) often, I decided to give them a try.

Note that there is a process you have to go through before you can use CLEAR at the airport.  You need to physically go to one of their offices and have your documentation verified and you need to have your fingerprints and retinas scanned. It doesn’t take long to do and you’re in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes. Once that’s done, you get your CLEAR smart card in the mail within a week or two.

On my first day using CLEAR at HPN I happened to get there super early (5:30am in fact!).  HPN is a small airport so there’s not that many people there at that time.  There was no line at the TSA ID check so I could have just sped right through that without using CLEAR but since I was eager to try out my CLEAR pass, I went to the CLEAR area instead.

At HPN there are two large kiosks and two friendly CLEAR agents  there who help you get through.  I handed over my CLEAR photo ID smart badge over to one of the agents.  She inserted it into the kiosk and I did a fingerprint scan. It instantly recognized me and the agent signaled the ok to her partner to unlock a special shortcut door into the screening area.

All in all it took about 30 seconds to get through.  It was a breeze.

OK, but did it save time?

Honestly speaking, since there was no line that morning at the TSA ID check, I would have been in the screening area a few moments before I would have walked through the CLEAR shortcut so no real-time savings for me that morning.  However, I’ve been at HPN when the ID badge check wraps around itself a few times so I can see it saving a good 10-15 minutes of waiting when the line is long.

How much is it?

It’s $179 a year for an individual and less for family and corporate accounts.  At that price you need to consider whether it’s something you’ll use frequently.

How does this compare to TSA Pre Check?

I don’t have any experience with TSA Pre Check but from what I have read, the premise is similar.   TSA Pre Check aims at saving you time in the screening area.   One nice thing about TSA Pre Check is that if you already have Global Entry, you can participate in TSA pre-check right off the bat.  You can find more info on TSA pre-check at TSA’s pre-check website.

Where can you use CLEAR?

Unfortunately not at that many places.  Here’s the list as of December 2012.  The latest list can be found on the CLEAR website.

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Westchester NY Airport (HPN)

Is CLEAR worth having?

For me, it’s too early to say.  $179 is a sizable investment.  It’s along the same lines as asking if paying $400 a year for  lounge access is worth it. If you fly out once a week out of any of the airports with CLEAR and you are constantly short on time, you probably should consider it.

I’ve seen CLEAR at SFO (San Francisco airport) as well and I recall there being a zero line at CLEAR.  At the time I had no clue what it was about, I thought it was for airport personnel.  Now I know better and it would have saved me the 15 minutes it took to get through the TSA ID check line if I had a CLEAR membership then!

Now that I have it, I have to try it out a few more times to find out if it’s worth it for me.  I tend to fly really early in the morning when the lines are short so it may not benefit me as much but like I said, lines do get long at HPN later in the day so if I were to fly more often in the later morning or afternoons, then it might be worth it to save the annoyance of waiting in line.

So it depends on your situation.  If you tend to fly often when the airport is busy it might be worth it.

Discounts on CLEAR

These are the ones I’m aware of.  I’ll update the list occasionally as I find them.

  • SAVE $25 with promo code CMNAF1X at Checkout.
  • Get referred and get one month free!  Perfect if you want to try before you buy. Request it in the comments below and I’ll send you a referral link! (Available until I run out of referrals!)

Have you tried out CLEAR?  Is it the best thing since sliced bread for you?  I’m curious to see what you think.

 

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My First Day of Scuba Diving Course at Hanauma Bay Hawaii

Posted on 25 November 2012 by onthegroundtravel

 

Diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii

This is a guest post from Vic Dinovici who writes about his first experience scuba diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii (on the island of Oahu).  He liked it so much he’s now a scuba instructor for HopTours.com.   Enjoy!

About Vic:

Vic is all about snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, scuba diving and all outdoor activities especially if is about water. In the hot sunny days you will find him going deep into the Pacific Ocean waters, taking pictures with the reef marine life and enjoying a good time with friends on Hawaii beaches.

His Story:

So, scuba diving is kind of a new-found passion of mine. I tried it on the last day of a vacation a few years ago and got completely hooked—unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to explore and dive since we were heading back home the next day. That’s why I recently decided that I was going to take a good portion of my upcoming vacation and spend it all scuba diving and exploring.

When I was figuring out where I wanted to go, I knew that I was going to need a place that was good for beginners (since I had only been once before), but that was also going to be worth all the time and money I was going to spend. That’s why I decided on Hanauma Bay—everyone told me just how gorgeous it was, and it was also perfect for beginners because of it’s shape and calm waters. It’s this protected little piece of paradise that doesn’t have any turbulent water or crashing waves like the open ocean, and it’s also home to this incredible coral reef that has so many different types of fish that you’ll lose count. I decided that I was going to go for my scuba diving certification, and registered with a group that offered a three-day diving course with certification at the end of it.

The first day of my diving course Hanauma Bay, I made sure to arrive at the park bright and early because once the parking lot is full, they don’t allow anyone else in (it’s to cut down on too many visitors causing damage to the reef). After I paid my admission fee, I had to hike a ways down to the beach—although it wasn’t too long, I was so anxious to get into the water that it felt like eternity! Finally I saw the bay, and I was so glad that I had chosen to come diving here: the water was crystal clear, the beach was beautiful with palm trees swaying in the breeze—it was everything I could have wanted. I found my instructor, who had me watch a video that talked about how to take care of the reef and wildlife, as well as gave the basics of scuba diving. Once that was finished, I got to sit in the shade of the coconut trees while my instructor went over the basics of everything—after that it was time to get suited up and into the water! Everything was so beautiful, and I felt so confident in that little area knowing that I was safe from any danger the open water held.

The next two days were pretty similar, except that I spent time learning how to map out my own dives, staying safe while scuba diving, and other necessary skills for my certification. Finally, I passed my test on the last day and was officially certified to go diving in the open water on my own! I spent the rest of my vacation diving in and around Hanauma Bay—exploring the few shipwrecks that were in the area and just generally enjoying my time in the water. It was such an amazing vacation, and I can’t wait to go back!

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Hawaiian Volcanoes – Feeling the Breath of the Earth

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Hawaii is known for its volcanoes.  One of the most mesmerizing moments on my recent trip there was to feel the heat generated by the lava from deep within the crust of the earth through a tiny vent hole on the ground.

The place was the Kilauea Ike Trail in the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. It was a 3 hour hike through lush green forest and a barren frozen lava field. As we walked across the lava field (which took an hour to walk across), we imagined the hot explosive lava that was once beneath our feet. Today, the only evidence of volcanic activity there is the steam vents that litter across the field. The steam is only visible on a wet rainy day. I think seeing and experiencing the steam was our blessing for having braved through rain and mud to finish this trail that day.

We were forewarned by a park ranger that one could get burned by the steam. As such, we tested the soil around the vent hole first to make sure it was not too hot, and then slowly moved our hands over the hole. We immediately felt the undeniable heat that bubbled through the hole, straight from the lava still active down below! The experience was both humbling and invigorating at the same time. I had my proof that Mother Earth is still alive and breathing that day!  If you are planning a visit to Hawaii, you can not miss the Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaiian Airlines is running a pre-black Friday sale!  Expires 11/26/2012

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My Love Affair with the Hyatt Regency Greenwich Lobby

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

The Hyatt Regency Greenwich hotel has one of the most romantic lobbies from our trips around the world.  Ever since I came back from Hawaii last year, I have been looking for a hotel with a lobby that has the open air tropical ambience of the hotels I stayed at in Hawaii. It’s no easy job to replicate (or compete with) the natural habitat of Hawaii, but the Hyatt Regency hotel in OldGreenwich, CT did a pretty darn good job at it.

Lobby of Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

Lobby of Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

The hotel lobby of this Greenwich hotel is basically an indoor garden complete with a small stream and miniature stone figurines along a small stone path. Guests can stroll on the meandering path that connects from the bar at one end of the lobby to the restaurant in the other. In the evening, it’s particularly romantic to have a drink at the bar as the soft lights along the path light up and the sound of the flowing stream envelops you. It’s also worthwhile to mention that this is an indoor lobby, meaning rain or shine, whether it’s 100°F or -32°F outside, you still feel nice & cool in the lobby.

I think I just fell in love with this hotel.

 

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