United Airlines buys stake in biometric screening firm Clear

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A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft lands at San Francisco International Airport
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United Airlines and the security identity firm Clear have struck a deal that will expand the number of biometric screening kiosks in airports around the U.S.

The partnership, which includes United buying a stake in Clear, is the latest example of an airline using biometric screening to move travelers through airports more quickly and with less hassle.

“Our customers consistently tell us they want expedited security. We think this partnership with Clear will improve their experience,” said Michael Covey, managing director of MileagePlus premier programs for United.

The agreement calls for Clear biometric screening kiosks to be added at the airline’s hub airports Chicago O’Hare, Houston International and Newark Liberty. Clear is already available at United’s other U.S. hub airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and Denver.

With 3.8 million members, Clear has been steadily expanding its presence since it was founded in 2010. Earlier this year, Clear was No. 22 on the CNBC Disruptor 50 list, which recognizes companies revolutionizing and transforming industries. The firm — which uses biometric screening to identify passengers and move them through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint quickly — now has kiosks identifying members at more than 30 U.S. airports.

“Our shared focus on the customer experience will enable us to reduce friction at every touch point and help travelers enjoy more of what they love,” Clear Chairman and CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker said in a release announcing the partnership.

Neither United nor Clear are releasing exactly how much the airline is investing in the security identification firm. Delta also has an ownership stake in Clear.

That relationship is one part of Delta’s push in recent years to expand the use of biometric screening so it’s easier and faster for passengers to move from the curb to the airplane. At Delta’s hub in Atlanta, the airline now uses facial recognition systems so passengers can quickly board some international flights without having to show a boarding pass or passport.

Standing in the international terminal of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport late last year, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC, “This is going to be an entirely biometric concourse where customers, through facial recognition will not need paper anymore.”

JetBlue is also testing facial recognition software.

For United’s MileagePlus frequent-flyer members, Clear memberships will be offered for free or at discounted prices. Those MileagePlus members at the highest award levels will receive a complimentary Clear service every year. For other MileagePlus members, the $179 annual cost of Clear will be reduced to as low as $109 per year.

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