Delta Passengers Shocked To Stand In Line For CLEAR At Atlanta Airport

by joeheg

For the first time in my life, I recently had the pleasure of going through the TSA Checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Needless to say, it was an experience.

After being dropped off at the airport, I needed to find my way to the CLEAR/TSA Precheck lane. I quickly learned that this was separate from the CLEAR and TSA Precheck lines. Located at the end of the building is the line for people who have both CLEAR and TSA Precheck.

If you’re not familiar, the combination of the two is supposed to mean you can breeze through the checkpoints and be on the way to your flight.

That is, unless everyone else has CLEAR and TSA Precheck.

This shouldn’t be a shocker at Atlanta airport, which is the center of the Delta Airlines universe. Delta provides free CLEAR membership to Diamond Medallion members and discounts for all other SkyMiles members. The most any Delta member has to pay for a yearly membership is $119. If you only fly a few times a year (or have a card that pays for CLEAR membership), signing up for the program is a no-brainer.

While I knew this, the other CLEAR passengers had apparently never experienced a line at the checkpoint. Here’s what I found at 9 AM on a Sunday.

I’d already made it through the first switchback when taking this picture of the queue for CLEAR at ATL.

From the comments of people entering the line, it appeared to be a personal affront for them to have to stand in line. Why did they pay $100 to stand in line like everyone else? Some people left the line to stand in the regular TSA Precheck lane, which was many times longer.

I timed it. Do you want to know how long I stood in line for the CLEAR lane at ATL airport?

Twelve minutes.

That’s the amount of time some people felt was unreasonable since they had paid for preferred access.

I’ll admit that I’ve never had to wait for more than 3 people for the CLEAR lanes at Orlando Airport. But that’s a different situation, with most passengers being leisure travelers who only take occasional trips; lots of them don’t have CLEAR membership. Traveling through Atlanta airport on a Sunday, you’re bound to be amongst many business travelers headed out for the next week of work on the road.

Given, they weren’t the ones I saw complaining. It was the ones who got free CLEAR membership with their $695 AMEX Platinum Card and expected to receive red carpet service.

News Flash – CLEAR isn’t a premium service. The price point makes sense for anyone who’s a regular traveler to apply for membership and skip the TSA document checkpoint. Paying for CLEAR doesn’t mean that you’ll get to jump the line at every airport. However, it allows you not to pull out your driver’s license to get past the checkpoint.

I’m confident that my 12-minute wait in the CLEAR/TSA Precheck line was shorter than the TSA Precheck line. The CLEAR line might have been shorter but then I’d have to go through the regular security line and remove my shoes and belt, along with taking my laptop from my carry-on bag. No, thank you.

Post-pandemic travel means having to deal with new problems. And yes, that includes waiting for 12 whole minutes to have a machine scan your irises, match your identity to your boarding pass and clear you through the government security checkpoint. Small sacrifices.

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JAS September 25, 2022 - 6:22 pm

Getting verified via eye scan or fingerprint on a clear machine isn’t any faster than having your license checked by an agent. The ONLY benefit of clear is shorter lines.

Soccerguy243 September 26, 2022 - 12:19 am

Shorter line is faster then isn’t it?

Greg September 25, 2022 - 7:34 pm

ATL screening is another level of farce – those new Analogic trigger false alarms worse than the ones at LHR.

i have Clear and find the whole concept unfortunate. our self imposed security theatre is so bad we created a 2nd tier of paid access to get a ‘reasonable’ wait.

‘small sacrifices’ is an excuse – TSA is not meeting its 10 minute standard for Precheck as designed and that’s not acceptable.

Jason Heyman September 25, 2022 - 7:56 pm

The challenge that I’ve been facing consistently lately across multiple airports (DEN, LAS, LAX, SFO) is that the Clear pre-check line takes much LONGER than the regular TSA precheck line. This has been my experiment over every one of my flights over the past 4 months. The clear line only gets access to half of a tsa agent, while the regular precheck like has 6 or more. On not one, but every occasion, I left the Clear line and went though the regular precheck line, making it though long before those who where next to me in the Clear line, much to their frustration. What’s the point of a service that literally costs you money to now slow you down? It used to make sense, but that time is now long gone.

Dave Schiff September 26, 2022 - 1:34 am

Thank you for your post and photographs. I have had this experience many times in Atlanta, my home airport. I have left the clear pre-check line multiple times and made it through the regular TSA pre-check line much more quickly. My wait time during the past three visits has been up to 25 minutes. The problem according to individuals, is that clear pre-check only has a small number of security belts leased from the Atlanta airport. They also have a paucity of machines and agents to check people in, which is markedly worse than other airports.

John O September 27, 2022 - 11:09 am

I came to say the same thing. ATL is my home airport, and on a recent flight I abandoned the Clear line for regular TSA pre-check, and marked the guy in front of me in the Clear line by his hat. By the time I made it through to drop off my bags, he wasn’t even halfway through the Clear line. Probably something to do with the 10 or so normal pre-check lanes that are there, and the only 2 Clear lanes.

Denise September 26, 2022 - 3:58 am

This was not unusual pre Covid. At times the Precheck line was actually shorter than Clear! More than once I gave up on Clear and just used Precheck. Was through much quicker. Guess we’re getting back to that point again.

Richard Davis September 26, 2022 - 4:34 am

I have both but they make me feel dirty. Airlines are the most capitalistic enterprise on earth where you p a year the smallest advantage.

DaninMCI September 26, 2022 - 5:42 am

ATL security is always a mess. CLEAR is a premium service in my opinion. It’s premium in that you pay for it to provide expedited access or it a included in some tiers of airline elite status. Having to wait more than a minute or two in a CLEAR line is not acceptable but this is what happens. When everyone has CLEAR and TSA PRE it makes little difference in wait times.

khatl September 26, 2022 - 8:30 am

The lines at ATL this past Thursday were way longer than you experienced. Halfway down the check in hall and that was for both precheck and clear w precheck. Easily a 30+ mins wait in both.

Corbett September 26, 2022 - 3:44 pm

I, too, have timed my longest Clear-With-Precheck wait at MCO at 3 minutes. I also would not have been so snotty about ATL because that line really moves. In 2018, Clear-With-Precheck saved my bacon at LGA Terminal D. A wait of AT LEAST 45 minutes with ordinary Precheck turned into 5 minutes. My AmEx Business Platinum is most welcome in this regard. The annual fee is steep but I use most of the features to offset.

Chris Christopher September 29, 2022 - 8:13 am

Fake news, Precheck alone is faster than Clear with Precheck at ATL because the Precheck line has 5 TSA agents clearing pax while the Clear Precheck line only has a single TSA agent.

Source: I fly to ATL very often and I am always annoyed that Clear Precheck line is longer than all other lines.

Kla October 2, 2022 - 10:06 am

This is first world problems at its finest! I work for an airline at DEN and find it hilarious how people cry about waiting in line and how incompetant the TSA is. Yet, they are quick to hand over more of their money to the government at what seems like a feeble attempt to wait a little less in a line. I give the govt. enough of my money. I always stick to coming to the airport early rule-which by the way, that rule of travel never went away-and life is fine. Everyday I see that pre-check/clear line just get soooo long. But if you just NEED that sense of entitlement, then by all means….

Rohit Verma October 2, 2022 - 5:33 pm

The problem is that CLEAR is charging a premium for getting to the front of the line, but typically does not have enough staff to perform the eye scans and escort people to the front of TSA Precheck. This is what is causing the delays at most airports.

JB January 8, 2023 - 5:02 pm

I have to comment on what nonsense this article is. Clear at ATL is an absolute joke. I’ve left that queue more times than I’ve used it, because it moves slower than regular precheck. One shining example is a few months ago when I was traveling with three other people. Two used regular security, one person used regular precheck, and I used clear + precheck. The three other people all made it through security before I did. I’ve stood in that queue closer to the front than your picture in the article and waited 45 minutes. It’s to the point where I don’t even bother at ATL anymore. It does work well at other airports, but ATL is a huge fail.

J Willard May 2, 2023 - 10:59 am

CLEAR at ATL is frustrating. Until they recently moved Sky Priority to a different area, CLEAR reps routinely moved passengers to that line. To me it defeats the purpose of CLEAR. They need more personnel to herd people through the horror of ATL TSA lines. I fly out of ATL routinely and as CLEAR continues to over sell, the lines have just gotten worse. Super annoying.


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