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A friend told me about a new airport screening service called CLEAR, which is purported to be so easy that it makes PRE-TSA look like lining up for Black Friday.  The cost is $179 per year which includes family members.  All you need to do is sign up on line and then have your fingerprints, retina, and driver’s license scanned into the computer at the airport. The description of CLEAR on the website declares “travel on your time knowing that waiting in security lines is a thing of the past. Life can be complicated, CLEAR is simple. No ID, no hassle. Confirm your identity with the tap of a finger, or the blink of an eye, and leave your wallet where it belongs.” I signed up immediately, with the thought processes that anything that makes air travel easier, is a plus!
When I got to the airport for a recent trip, I had my receipt from CLEAR and found one of the blue sweatshirt-clad CLEAR representatives available to assist me with the process of scanning my identity into the computer.  I had left plenty of time to go through the procedure.  My finger prints worked quite well, although friends have said they had trouble with this part of the process. My eye-scanning didn’t work.  The woman kept saying “go closer,” “too close,” “too far,” and finally “OK, we have your fingerprints, that’s all that we need.  I guess I won’t qualify for a role in the next James Bond movie to open a vault with my trusty retina!  By this point I was doubting the message about the CLEAR reps on the website that stated: “Our friendly ambassadors will make sure that wherever you are going, you get there with a smile.”  This woman was deficient to the tune of two, in both the areas of friendliness and corners of the mouth rising!

Once I finished the physical screening, I had to go through security questions.  I sailed through all the questions which seemed quite benign.  Had I ever lived in Encino, Woodland Hills, or Torrance?  I answered no.  Miss-Cranky-of-LAX, who was guiding me through the screening said, “are you sure?”  I answered this three-tacos-short-of-a-combination-plate-genius “absolutely, I should know where I have lived!” The questions continued with innocuous ones and then came the killer question.  The machine spat out in large bold letters HOW OLD IS PETER?  Tears brimmed in my eyes and I started to weep.  I had signed up on my own.  My husband had died suddenly three years ago and it brought back powerful and upsetting feelings.  I just didn’t get it.  Why would the computer suddenly ask me about my deceased husband?  I told the living callous robot who was assisting me that my husband had died.  Without missing a beat Miss-Lack-of-Congeniality piped up with “well then just figure how old he would be?”  OMG how could anyone be this insensitive and cold-hearted? Clearly CLEAR is hiring from the cast of Mean Girls, the musical! 

I have always been a nervous traveler even when Peter and I traveled together.  But traveling alone as a widow is much more difficult.  Augmenting my pain with a tactless, unsympathetic automaton-of-a-worker was intolerable.  On my return trip, I was excited to try my new CLEAR system on the return trip back from JFK.  When I got to the terminal, I was told they did not have CLEAR there.  But they did add that I could use CLEAR at all the rock concerts and sporting events I would attend?  Really?  The last rock concert I attended was the Stones, and my ears are still ringing.

To their credit, I wrote a letter chronicling my experience to CLEAR.  Within a day I received a phone call with apologies.  Of course, trying to call back is not an easy task.  The wait was thirty minutes long.  I got a supervisor who was kind, seemed to grasp my situation, and took copious notes.  Then I was elevated to another supervisor who continued to ask questions and promise to change their policy.  I received a full refund and several months extension in compensation.  My main concern was protecting other widows from the situation that befell me.  I am trying  hard to believe that CLEAR has changed their policy and I actually feel good that change came out of an upsetting situation.  Helping others is my deliverance to my new acceptably different reality.

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