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Is It OK to Ditch Your Travel Partner at TSA PreCheck?

By AFAR Editors

01.31.20

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Are you Team Stick Together or not?

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Are you Team Stick Together or not?

One person has travel perks like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or a seat upgrade—and the other doesn’t: Does proper etiquette mean you have to stick together or can you just meet on the other side?

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Welcome to AFARguments, a series where editors go head to head about divisive travel issues.

Taking a vacation together can be the highlight of any relationship, whether it’s a trip with mom, your honeymoon, or a weekend getaway with your closest friends. But navigating the airport together can be a headache, especially if one person has TSA PreCheck and Global Entry memberships and the other doesn’t. Should you wait it out together, or is OK to meet on the other side of security or customs? And what if one person earns the holy grail of travel perks—a seat upgrade? Do you take it or suffer together in economy?

Not surprisingly, AFAR’s staff has strong feelings on whether people should stick together at the airport or if it’s really every person for themselves until you arrive at your destination. Here’s what they had to say.

Yes: If one person has perks, that person should enjoy them

“To me, TSA Precheck isn’t about having to stand in a line. It’s about having to unpack my bag and take off my shoes—a process that makes flying a total hassle. Just because my travel partner hasn’t taken the time to get TSA PreCheck doesn’t mean I should have to go through that obnoxious process with them. Honestly, if I went on a first date with someone who had the means to get a TSA PreCheck membership, but didn’t take the time to sign up for it, that’s a deal breaker for me. Maybe, this is also why I’m still single. . . .” —Lyndsey Matthews, destination news editor

“If they are an able-bodied person who has flown previously, meet them at the gate or upon arrival.” —Lou LaGrange, content partnerships director

“I’ll ditch anyone at any time for any reason (TSA PreCheck, Clear, upgrades). If still at the airport, I’ll gladly volunteer to get a seat or spot and order libations while my partner is still queuing. I’ve also forced folks that got upgrades to take it and not feel guilty. It’s a rare and welcome perk. Enjoy it. That being said, I do always recommend my travel companions get TSA PreCheck or Clear before the trip starts, if they don’t already have it. Most will comply.” —Donna Delmas, director, ad operations

“My wife traveled a ton for her job and earned the status she earned. I have no qualms about being left to go through security on my own. If you get to the airport early enough (see AFAR’s opinions on that here), security doesn’t have to be stressful. And my wife would get there early anyway, even though she has PreCheck. It is nice to be able to give my toiletries or anything else I’d need to take out of my bag to her, if it fits in her bag.” —Jeremy Saum, executive editor

“I am fine with splitting up. I’ll be sure to grab a table at the airport bar and have a glass of wine waiting for them. And then I will sit them down and explain why they should not take another trip without [TSA PreCheck].” —Anni Cuccinello, audience development director

No: Splitting up misses the point of traveling together

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“I’d never ditch my partner in crime, largely because he’s afraid of flying. I’d feel terrible ditching him for a seat upgrade, especially if we were taking a route that always has some kind of turbulence (say, San Francisco to Denver). I’m also not about to leave him alone in a 30-minute TSA line while I breeze through PreCheck—we’re traveling together, so let’s travel together. Plus, when we’re on the same itinerary, he often gets cleared for PreCheck anyway. No ditching necessary.” —Nicole Antonio, managing editor

“Pema Chodron says: ‘How you anything, is how you do everything,’ which is a standard I try to live by. Now that said, I tend to travel with like-minded, savvy travelers, so PreCheck is rarely an issue. Regarding upgrades, when traveling with someone, the travel journey begins once we step outside our door so I like to be side by side and enjoy their company.”  —Elizabeth Allerton, executive director, brand partnerships

“Absolutely not. Ditching anyone you’re traveling with misses the whole point of travel. Who cares about a slightly longer line? Or even the comfier seat? I picked this person to travel with so we could have fun together and create memories (yes, even in the TSA security line). And I don’t care if that sounds cheesy AF. I would rather chat in line with my homies than stand alone either in line or post-security. For what it’s worth, my husband does ditch me with his TSA PreCheck (the irony of him having it and me the travel editor not currently in possession of TSA PreCheck is not lost on me), and it always stings a bit when he does it. But that’s not why I feel this way. I used to have TSA PreCheck and would stand by any travel companion who didn’t. And the same goes for upgrades.” —Michelle Baran, travel news editor

“I strongly suggested (forced) my husband to get Global Entry with PreCheck, but before he had it I did tolerate the longer line to stay with him. I am not fancy enough to ever get upgraded, but I would think it is uncool to ditch my travel partner for the upgrade. My husband is very tall so I always give him the aisle seat and suffer in the middle seat. I would happily give him a chance to upgrade if he had the opportunity so he could be comfy.” —Breanna Rhoades, HR director

“Nope. Sorry. I fully respect others who can do this, but even if I were able to overcome my sense of travel loyalty, I’d be so consumed with guilt over abandoning my person, I’d never be able to enjoy myself. Well, OK, I’d probably enjoy an upgrade to business class. But I wouldn’t feel good about enjoying it. Plus, if I’m traveling with someone, I want to be with them, in the good times and the bad. Some of the funniest conversations I’ve had with friends or family have happened in interminable lines (this does require hiding those pesky phones, ahem). I put this philosophy to the test a few months ago when traveling with my Global Entry–less partner and discovered that a) yes, I’m willing to sacrifice my travel perks and b) Mobile Passport is an excellent workaround for those who don’t have Global Entry.” —Aislyn Greene, senior editor

It really all depends on the situation . . .

“If the end result is the same, why does the journey matter? (Note: I only abide by this at the airport.) So if you’re both going to be waiting at the gate to board at the exact same time, take your preferred path to get there. BUT if you get a seat upgrade and your partner doesn’t? That outcome is totally different—and totally rude.” —Laura Dannen Redman, digital content director

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“When it came time to fly during the peak holiday travel season at JFK, I was definitely NOT excited about the prospect of waiting in the seemingly endless security line. But I was with my mother and I knew that she was struggling with her large suitcase, and the look in her eyes was enough to tell me that I needed to stay. She was well aware of ‘the sacrifice’ made. In the instance of friends who don’t have PreCheck: I often arrange to meet them at the gate, versus traveling to the airport together, as this alleviates some of the awkwardness that comes from separating at security. On the other hand, my husband has Global Entry and I do not. But there are times when the Mobile Passport line has let me through customs way faster than him . . . and let me tell you. I will not stop to wait. I think he is used to it now.” —Katie Galeotti-Hiddo, executive director, marketing 

“When I first started dating my now-husband, I somehow got put through a priority security lane but he didn’t. We were running late and I was anxious, so I ditched him and arrived at the gate just in time—only to stand around for what felt like forever while the flight attendant called his name on the intercom (final boarding call for our final passenger!). I was about to ditch him again and let him fend for himself on a rebooked flight, which I felt terrible about, until he showed up in the nick of time with two breakfast burritos. Mostly, I’m in favor of ditching your partner or taking the upgrade. It’s easier to rebook one person than two. For upgrades, if I were in my partner’s shoes, I’d want them to take the upgrade and enjoy it and assume they feel the same. But when it comes to my favorite travel partner, maybe I shouldn’t split up with him and leave him to his own devices, wandering airport terminals in search of breakfast food while the gates slowly close.” —Jessie Beck, SEO specialist

“I don’t mind being ditched in a security line, although I don’t do the ditching because I’m too lazy to get PreCheck or Global Entry (I know, I know). When it comes to the upgrade, I would like to think that I would be totally chill about getting left behind, but if I’m being honest here I would 100 percent take the upgrade. If the tables were turned, though, I would probably be a baby about my travel buddy getting it and leaving me behind. (Not a good look, I know.) I could use the excuse that my flight anxiety is such that I can never sleep on a plane regardless of trip duration, but the real reason is that I just want those sweet little sleep masks and threadbare socks. I’ve never experienced any of this in real life, though, so who knows, maybe I’m a better person than I think?” —Sara Button, assistant editor

The bottom line

This round of AFARguments has no clear winner. With five staffers staunchly on Team “No Traveler Left Behind,” another five on Team “Ditch ’Em,” and four on Team “Well, It All Depends . . .”, it seems like nobody can decide what the proper etiquette is for this scenario. Our best advice is, if you do find yourself in a situation where you and your travel buddies have different perks at the airport, have a conversation with them before you even start packing. That way there are no surprises (or hurt feelings) if and when you do decide to split up or stick together on your next trip.

>> Next: Hard vs. Soft Luggage—Which Is Superior? Two AFAR Editors Hash It Out

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