Travel Tips

CLEAR Traveler Program, Outrageous Airline Fees and Celebrating America

Locations in this article:  Anchorage, AK Orlando, FL

Clear Registered TravelerWe’re still recovering from the demise of the CLEAR traveler program. They ceased operating because they simply ran out of money from their creditors. They couldn’t get additional financing.

CLEAR was always a problem in terms of capitalization, but not in terms of its concept.

The concept was good –for a nominal $100 fee you could submit yourself to a background check, they’d give you a card, and then you could supposedly be whisked right through the airport and bypass security and all sorts of other things.

The problem was that of course, you couldn’t. The TSA was never really on board. They always reserved the right to do a secondary screening.

And when they tried to test it they tested it at airports like Orlando that weren’t heavily traveled business airports. There were grandmas going to see Mickey. They weren’t going to use the card, and of course the three people that did use it were the only ones in line so they went right through.

Get the scoop on Clear’s demise with Clear Pass Airport Lanes Shut Down Amid Financial Woes.

So it remains to be seen if anyone will take up the slack and take over the system. But for now those lanes are closed and the odds of you getting your money back are slim to none. You become one of the many creditors waiting in a long, long line to get a refund of what’s remaining on your membership. That may never happen.

Airport queueSpeaking of lines, and fees – it’s getting worse, boys and girls. There was a time not too long ago when the airlines would gladly lose my bag for free – but now they’re charging you to check your bags, and losing them.

It’s getting worse because at US Airways and United if you don’t pay to check your bag online, they’re going to charge you an additional $5 to do it at the airport!

It’s ridiculous! It already went into effect on June 10 at United, and it’s going in effect in 4 days at US Airways. It’s getting worse and worse and worse, the nickel-and-diming fees left and right. It’s getting me angrier and angrier.

Public pressure can work, though. Check out Blaming Bad Publicity, US Airways Drops Beverage Fees. And find out what happens When Airlines Go a La Carte.

The worst one of all is the frequent flier programs. You know, the inducement to join these programs is that when you get 25,000 the presumption is that you’ll be able to go sit somewhere on a beach with a piña colada shoved in your face.

United Airlines Boeing 747But you know what happens in this great game of extortion when you finally get 25,000 miles – the airlines say, we don’t have any seats at 25,000, but we have them at 50,000! But you joined to get a seat at 25,000.

Now it’s getting worse. For those of you who want to use mileage to upgrade, get ready for this: at United they’ll say no problem you can use your miles to upgrade, but now you have to pay a co-payment. It’s like a bad HMO!

They want you to co-pay up to $700 in addition. That’s not a loyalty program – that’s an extortion program! It’s got to be stopped.

I’m going to start yelling and screaming. I think there should be a class-action lawsuit. I’ll be the first to sign on claiming that the airlines are now running these frequent flier programs as nothing more than unregulated illegal lotteries. And I think that states can make that case. They can bypass deregulation and make that case.

Learn more with Ask Peter: Beating the Airlines at the Frequent Flier Game.

Now shifting gears – after all last weekend was the July 4th weekend – if you saw Parade magazine you saw my story. What was it about? No, it’s not a travel story. It’s celebrating something that couldn’t be more American if it tried, especially on July 4th. It celebrates America’s volunteer firefighters.

Parade Firefighters CoverIn every single city and county around the country there were events, whether it be pancake breakfasts or parades, so much revolves around the volunteer firehouses in America. People forget it was started by guess who? Benjamin Franklin.

And here’s a statistic most people don’t know: 75% of all firefighters in America are volunteers.

And here’s another factoid people don’t know: most of the great firefighting innovations of the last 50 years – guess who did them? Volunteer fire departments.

And why? Because they had no budget, so they had to make do with what they had. And yours truly is a volunteer firefighter. I’ve been one since I was 18 and I proudly carry the badge. When that alarm goes, I’m one of the guys that shows up. And it’s not just guys.

Peter in his firefighter gear - photo by Mark WexlerIn our department out on Fire Island two of our assistant chiefs are women, and three of the women drive the trucks. It’s coed all the way. But most importantly, it’s community all the way. You know, nothing says community more than volunteer fire departments. One interesting thing about some of these departments is who mans them. Because recruitment is down and it’s tough getting people to join.

In small communities like Aniak, Alaska, the closest place is Anchorage, 350 miles away, they’re doing about 250 alarms a year in this small little community. You know who makes up the volunteer fire department? Four adults and three high school kids. That’s the entire department. That’s what I’m talk about when it comes to recruitment.

You know who was volunteer fireman until recently? NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. He was a volunteer fireman in Middleton Township, New Jersey, which is the largest volunteer fire department in America.

This blog comes from the July 4th radio show from St. Petersburg, Russia. Listen to the first hour of the show here.

So if you’re reading this now, chances are that you’re not far from a volunteer fire house, and chances are they’ll be there waiting to see you. Go over there and say hi, and if you’re really cool, why don’t you just join up?

It’s something you can really do to help that doesn’t just help your community, it helps you at the same time. There’s nothing more American than that.

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.