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You asked: Is it ever okay to cut in line at TSA?

In this week’s By The Way Concierge, a rule-follower questions those who test them

(Cynthia Kittler/Illustration for The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

Is skipping or cutting in TSA lines common to other travelers? I wonder if this a thing now. It starts with someone from behind saying: “My flight leaves in 10 minutes. May I pass?” But they don’t show a boarding pass and instead take advantage of the goodwill of prompt and play-by-the-rules passengers. — Al K., Orlando

In the words of my niece’s favorite movie, “Frozen”: Let it go.

This situation is common, but not a regular occurrence — and not a problem on the rise, in my experience. I’ve been tapped by a handful of late travelers over the years, but it’s never made me miss, or even risk missing, my own flight. At worst, it can be annoying if the cutter comes off as a jerk, but most of the time it’s just a flustered, desperate soul whom I don’t mind helping.

But maybe I’m missing something, so I checked with other travel experts to get their take.

“I think it’s a very honest and real question,” Shayna Mizrahi, founder and CEO of Vive Voyage travel agency, told me. “It has happened to me many times in many airports. … I’ve had clients complain about this.”

Mizrahi agrees with you that it can be tough to spot the bad actors from the actually late, but there is one way to know someone is not faking it.

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“When it’s actually real is when there’s an officer or someone from the airline escorting the person through,” she said, speaking from experience. After some terminal confusion in an Australian airport, Mizrahi was whisked through security by her airline — legitimizing the cut.

Does that mean you shouldn’t let someone pass without a chaperone?

“It is a real annoying occurrence that happens in airports, but at the end of the day, just be a nice person and let someone go through,” Mizrahi said. “Even if you don’t really know [if they’re faking tardiness].”

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For Yannis Moati, founder and CEO of HotelsByDay, it’s fully okay for travelers to ask to cut.

“I think we’re all anxious that we’re going to be late for our flight, even if we’re three hours early, so I think we can all relate to the person who only has 15 minutes to get to their gate,” Moati said.

It’s so common that you can ask a TSA agent to help, because “it happens on a regular basis, and they have a protocol for that,” Moati said.

Daniel Bubb, a commercial air travel historian, professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and former airline pilot, recognized that people will react differently to the request.

“Oh, boy, you’re going to get a mixed bag on that one,” he told me when I read him your question. “You’ll get some people who may be sympathetic [to cutters] and other people who are actually not going to be sympathetic and probably will respond rather negatively to it.”

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Bubb thinks it comes down to the travel experience of the cuttee. If you’re a frequent flier, you’re numb to the headaches of the security line.

“For people who don’t travel very frequently, it can be very stressful,” Bubb said. “And that stress can irk people a little bit. So if you have someone who’s cutting in line, they may not respond very well.”

Being a seasoned professional, Bubb is okay with a cut now and then, “because anything can happen,” he said. Flat tires, impossible parking, canceled Ubers, road construction, epically long airport lines: The list of possible disruptions for any traveler is endless.

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“I guess what I’m saying is it’s out of our control,” Bubb said, “so I’m usually sympathetic to people. I wouldn’t be sympathetic if they were people who habitually show up 15 minutes before their flight.”

But it’s impossible to know whether the stranger is a chronic late-arriver. So let them go. Even if the traveler is pulling a fast one on you, it’s not going to ruin your day to let them slide. Consider it good travel karma, and hope someone helps you out the next time you’re in a bind.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.

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