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News & Advice

Should You Ditch Your Travel Companion If They Don't Have TSA PreCheck? 

The interpersonal politics of PreCheck, explored.

Travel Debates is a series in which our editors weigh in on the most contentious issues that arise in-transit, like whether you should ever switch seats on a plane or if you should check your work email while on vacation.

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.

The security line is long. Your patience wears thin. There is a Shake Shack just past security—you can’t smell it but you know that it’s there. You have TSA PreCheck, but your travel companion does not. Do you ditch them? Can you?

The fee for a five-year membership to the expedited security screening program may have dropped back in November, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has managed to enroll—even Traveler editors, as you’ll see below, are among those who for one reason or another have not gotten round to doing so. So, as we stare down the barrel of summer travel, it's time to ask the hard questions: Are you inclined to use what you’ve paid for? Or are you firmly determined to leave no person behind? Is there a way, dare we say, to use your lack of PreCheck to your advantage? Below, senior features editor Rebecca Misner, senior visuals editor Pallavi Kumar, destinations editor Shannon McMahon, and editorial assistant Charlie Hobbs convene and discuss.  

Charlie Hobbs: Would you ever ditch a traveling companion who didn’t have TSA PreCheck?

Rebecca Misner: This is so embarrassing, but my husband has TSA PreCheck and I do not, which is fodder for all sorts of family jokes. And so, if he’s booked the ticket, the kids automatically get it and then I’m by myself. 

CH: And how does that feel?

RM: I will tell you, I'll be honest, at first I was a little bit stung by the whole thing. Times are changing a bit, and it always depends what airport you’re at, but this started during a time when I would have to take my laptop out and unpack my toiletries and take my shoes off. And they didn't. I'm a travel editor, we’d probably be traveling for a story I'm writing, it all felt wrong. But then, I started saying, “Okay, you guys are going to get through first and you have to get me a coffee and breakfast,” or, “You have to check in with the gate agent and get our seats together.” So now I delegate chores to those who get through first—it’s a bit of a silver lining of being the person left behind, you just have to milk it and make it work for you.

Pallavi Kumar: My sister and I were traveling with a couple, and they had PreCheck and we didn’t. We split up and my sister and I ended up getting through security faster than they did. We bought some books and met them at the gate and got to poke some fun at them, like: “How useful is PreCheck, really?” But we really didn’t mind that initial split between those with PreCheck and those without, because we had each other. I think it’s different if there’s just two of you.

CH: Wait—how did that happen? That you beat them through even though they had PreCheck?

PK: So many people have PreCheck, and so if you’re at a major airport like Atlanta it might just work out that way, although it’s only happened to me once. 

Shannon McMahon: A parallel example relevant to the last debate: I was traveling with my husband this weekend and we were booking upgrades and mine disappeared. We had separate reservations, because I was on assignment and he booked his own to join me. He upgraded to comfort, and I was left behind. I think he thought that I was going to be quietly mad at him, and I was saying I was fine. My whole philosophy is very much that if you’re going to pay for something, you should use it. And so, for PreCheck, I think what Rebecca said is so dead on. If you want to do something for me on the other side while I’m in line, great, but go use the PreCheck that you’re paying for.

PK: That makes me feel so bad about what I was going to say, which is that I would be so pissed if my friend left me behind—I wouldn’t want to see them on the other side!

CH: What is it about togetherness on a line that is so valuable to you?

PK: I feel like travel is so much about sharing experiences together, and when things split you up I feel like it affects the trip and the memories that you have. For me, everything when you’re traveling is personal—you’re supposed to remember all of these moments together.

CH: I think I just like being alone so much.

SM: When I’m traveling and in a hectic environment, I so prefer to just put my head down and get through it alone.

PK: I think it’s because of my family—my mom’s in Dubai, my dad’s in Thailand, I have family in India and family in the United Kingdom, and my sister and I are in New York—that all of the time that we are able to grab together is sacred. 

CH: And do you have PreCheck yourself, Pallavi?

PK: I'm on a visa, so that's not an option for me right now anyway. I have to go back to India to get it but then the wait time to get my visa stamped is 500 days—so if I leave here it will be for a while. 

CH: What about you, Rebecca?

RM: I have Clear, which I’ve found is often faster. I’ve made the appointment a few times, but I feel like it’s always at the worst time but I make it optimistically months in advance and end up canceling it. Unlike Pallavi, if my husband wants to take the kids on his own for twenty minutes, that’s cool. I’ll take the quiet time.

SM: A lot of these memberships are fraught because people are resentful of giving money to TSA for something that is still bothersome. I only first got PreCheck because I could refund it on my credit card. 

PK: But you’ll always see the value in it when you get to the airport and see the monster lines—I’m sure we’ve all had moments were we dreamed of paying the extra money. 

RM: I’d feel worse leaving my sister than my husband–I don’t know what that says.

PK: My sister and I always travel together and I think she knows better than to ever leave me.

RM: I see my sister less often and we do travel together—it’s exactly what you were saying, Pallavi, that it’s time to be with each other. When we are together, it’s a lot of chatting—it’s the type of thing where, if she goes to the bathroom at the airport, I’ll come and wash my hands so we can keep the conversation going. But my husband and my kids, I see them all the time. Traveling with friends or with your sister, it’s a little more celebratory and the experience is kind of a party and I can see it feeling a little weird for one member of the party to ditch out.

PK: And what do you think, Charlie?

CH: Nobody in my life really has PreCheck, I can’t say I’ve really run into this problem before and I’m here more as a moderator. But if somebody wanted to ditch me to use their PreCheck, I would encourage them to so that I could enjoy some alone time, certainly. Maybe Shannon and I just come from Irish families.

PK: You'll have to travel with me and my sister some time!