Running late to catch your flight but can't find your ID? Here's everything you need to know about flying without an ID.
Navigating the process of flying without an ID is one of the greatest nightmares for novice travelers and intrepid globetrotters alike. You pack your bags, get to the airport early, check into your flight, and then it hits you—your ID is sitting on your nightstand. That weekend getaway to Cancún you were about to enjoy? Cancel it. All your friends that are meeting you there? They’re not your friends anymore.
The questions start clouding your head, any sense of rationality you once had dissipates, and you’re feeling dizzy in the departures hall: Really? I’ve lost my ID?! Can I fly without an ID? Can I fly with my birth certificate and social security card? Do I have those? Can I fly with an expired ID? I might have that. Can I fly with a picture of my ID? How the heck will I get on a plane without an ID? Am I doomed?
Take a breath, calm down, and read this article. Before you’ve completely lost your mind and your ID, we have some good news: The Transportation Security Administration (commonly referred to as TSA) has a procedure for jet-lagged, vulnerable passengers who show up at the airport without an ID. It involves secondary forms of identification, TSA’s ID Verification Call Center (IVCC), and additional security measures that help the TSA confirm that you are, in fact, you.
So, before working yourself into a total frenzy, know that you’re not alone in flying without an ID and are not automatically denied boarding because you forgot to bring proper identification. Here’s everything you need to know about getting through TSA security and flying without an ID.
Background Information on Flying With IDs
If you’re over 18 and intend to fly, you must present a valid government-issued form of photo identification when you check in to your domestic or international flight. Acceptable forms of ID for TSA include passports, driver’s licenses, passport cards, or military IDs.
Remember that all carriers are unique in the United States: some have more flexible policies than others for domestic travel. Airlines may have differing policies on which identifications they accept, so the best thing to do is call them and speak to a customer service representative directly. However, it is important to note that some airlines, like United and Southwest, insist that all passengers present a government-issued ID at check-in.
The TSA’s Verification Procedure in a Nutshell
Here’s the million-dollar question: Can you fly without an ID? The short answer is yes. The TSA gets it: the system recognizes that if your ID was lost or (gasp!) stolen, while away from home, then getting a replacement ID may be near impossible. If you’re flying domestically, they will do their best to let you still fly without ID, which means convincing them that you are… you. That’s right: you will only be allowed onto your flight if the TSA can first verify your identity and then you successfully pass through security.
Getting to the Airport
So you lost your ID before the flight. If you know you will be traveling through security without an ID, try arriving at the airport as early as possible. Believe it or not, the “two hours early” rule may not be enough for the process you’re about to endure.
Additionally, consider the size of the airport you’ll be departing from. The bigger the airport, the more likely officers are well-versed in the intricacies of acceptable forms of ID for the TSA, simply because they’re much busier. For example, the TSA officers at O’Hare International Airport and the TSA officers at Asheville Regional Airport operate differently. It’s also important to print out your boarding pass (or have it digitally accessible!) before getting to the airport.
How Does the TSA Verify Identity Without a Government-Issued ID?
You have your ticket in hand, have dropped your baggage, and are headed up to the rather intimidating TSA with a lost ID. This is what you need to do: Go up to the TSA document checker and explain your predicament. You might be asked to sign a Certification of Identity form with your name and address. It includes a disclaimer that says you consent to the government reviewing your personal information. Then you are pulled aside, and the procedure begins.
Whether or not your identity is verified depends on the personal information you offer to the TSA. You will be asked to provide your name, current address, and any secondary forms of identification you might possess. The information you give will then be cross-checked for validity using personal information that is already publicly available. You also might have to answer some (very) personal questions using that same set of publicly available info, all of which we’ll get to later.
Yup, there’s a lot of information on you out there. It’s 2023, people. Once your identity is verified, you’ll be allowed to enter the security screening process, where you’ll be subjected to more thorough screening measures.
Of course, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be flying. This TSA blog post states, “If your identity cannot be verified, you will not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint.” Noted. And if you have no form of identification for the TSA, getting on that flight will prove quite tricky, if not impossible.
TSA-Approved Secondary IDs
You might be wondering if you can fly with a temporary ID. The answer, much to our chagrin, is no. Even for domestic flights, a provisional driver’s license is not in itself considered an acceptable form of alternate ID by the TSA.
This is the (potential) solution instead: bring as many secondary identifications as possible to the airport if you’re attempting to get through TSA without government-issued forms of ID. According to the TSA’s blog, you will be asked to provide “two secondary forms of identification with the following information: name, a photo, address, phone number, social security number, date of birth.”
Even if you left your ID at home, there’s a good chance that you’re carrying something with the information mentioned above. Credit cards, school IDs, iPhone photos of your identification, and even prescription medication with your name on it could help your case and potentially be acceptable forms of ID for the TSA.
You might be asking if you can fly with your birth certificate or Social Security card–those are pretty formal, right? However, like the other IDs, a birth certificate can only be used in conjunction with other documents to help you get on that flight. Sadly, even if your original identification was lost or stolen, these documents are not the saving grace for your vacation.
If you lost your ID while traveling with family, show the TSA those family photos. If your wallet was stolen, bring the police report. The more identifying items and forms you hand over, the better your chances of boarding your flight. Just graduated? Whip out that diploma. Were you eloping in Vegas? Show the TSA the marriage license.
This is not a joke; anything helps. Other IDs that may help your case to fly without ID include expired government photo IDs, utility bills, prescriptions, checkbooks, magazines containing a home address, and even your Costco Membership Card (while they aren’t government issues, they do have a photo. We always knew Costco Memberships would save the day!).
“You are encouraged to provide as much information and documentation as possible,” says the TSA in this blog post. But no, unless you can provide acceptable forms of secondary identification, you cannot fly without ID in the United States.
The TSA website also explains, “Additional screening will include a pat-down and bag search. Screening protocols may vary based on technology available at the checkpoint and intelligence-driven factors.” Remember when we told you to arrive early? This is yet another reason why punctuality needs to be your middle name now.
The Identity Verification Call Center (IVCC)
Here’s where it gets interesting. In May of 2018, the TSA released a redacted version of its 2013 ID verification procedures in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Identity Project. You can view them here. It’s unclear whether all cases of ID-less passengers go through the IVCC or if providing loads of secondary forms of identification will suffice. Regardless, after you’ve offered secondary identification, a TSA officer may call into the IVCC. On the other end of the line, “someone” ensures that the information you have provided is accurate or asks specific identifying questions that are then relayed to you by the TSA officer.
The officer may ask you to spell your mom’s name or the name of a church near your house. Who knows how exactly the hidden voice on the other end of the line verifies your identity, but speculation abounds. Per the TSA’s website, “TSA has other ways to confirm your identity, like using publicly available databases so that you can reach your flight.” Hmm.
And what if you get the questions wrong? Tough luck boarding that flight. No flying without ID for you. If anyone should know the name of the closest hospital to your address, it’s you. If you decline to cooperate with this procedure or the TSA cannot verify your identity using the information provided, you will be denied passage through security.
Going Through Security
It’s now time to start looking at going through security at the airport as a two-part process. First, you prove your identity. Next, you go through security. Travelers tend to gloss over the identity screening process because it’s relatively straightforward: hand over your ID and boarding pass, wait for the officer to verify they’re legitimate, and enjoy your flight.
But for ID-less travelers, no part of going through TSA is straightforward. Once your identity has been verified, you aren’t treated like a “normal” passenger. You are subjected to a separate and additional security screening process that is undoubtedly more time-consuming and invasive than the standard screening procedures.
In addition to going through an X-ray machine, a TSA officer will probably manually inspect any luggage you carry. Be prepared for thorough pat-downs and hand-swabbing–the whole nine yards. While we risk sounding like an overly-zealous father on a family vacation, here’s our little reminder that those “two hours early” may not be near enough.
Flying Domestic Versus International Without an ID
As we now know, there are processes in place if you’ve lost your ID before your flight and need to contact the TSA. But that is only talking about flying domestically sans ID.
Trying to get through TSA without ID when you’re headed somewhere international? That is likely a no-go. You’re now dealing with different countries, all of which have rules about their acceptable identification for commercial flights. Traveling without a passport is incredibly difficult (if not impossible!), and we recommend you not even try.
Instead, if you’re abroad and you lose your passport, head to the nearest U.S. embassy as soon as possible to report it as missing and get a temporary replacement. The embassies exist (among other reasons) to help get you home when you’ve lost your government-issued ID and passport.
Always Remain Calm
If you already hate waiting in long and slow TSA lines, try going through one without an ID. However, just because you’re undergoing more thorough security measures, this doesn’t guarantee your safe and successful passage to The Other Side.
As always, stay calm and be polite. TSA officers are trained to detect any nervous or suspicious activity. If you scream at an officer for mishandling your golf clubs or loudly complain about how unconstitutional the Identity verification process is, chances are you just registered on their “suspicious” radar. Remember: you’re the one who forgot their ID, and they’re trying to help you.
If you’re reading this article in the backseat of an Uber on the way to the airport, ready to attempt flying without an ID, congratulations! You know what to expect. The fate of your vacation is out of your hands. Now sit back, relax, and surrender yourself to the process (and send a quick prayer to the almighty Airport Gods!).
Copyright 2023 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. From https://www.fodors.com. By Olivia Liveng.