Frequent Flyer Club

How to Fly Without an ID

Sergey Furtaev/Shutterstock

All the travel bloggers went into a tizzy last fall when news broke that travelers from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, and New Hampshire would no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses as a valid form of airport ID. What no one bothered to point out, though, is that it’s actually possible to fly without any ID at all.
Say what?
'Tis true -- as I found out first-hand when I inadvertently left my license at home just before a work trip. After I’d skulked up to the reservations desk to rebook my flight, the airline rep explained that, no, I didn’t need to rebook because, yes, of course you can fly without an ID. And, how did I not know that? Turns out that as long as you’re willing to submit to an extra layer of security, you’re A-OK to hop a plane sans identification. And because the weather gods had a frat-boy sense of humor that weekend, I ended up enduring several canceled flights and went through security no fewer than four times over the course of three days. So what did I learn?

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Be prepared to explain yourself to TSA

It’s not like the ticket agent gives you a sandwich board to help explain your plight to security. So be prepared to lay out your situation quickly and succinctly to the TSA agent, especially so as not to piss off the folks behind you who did NOT forget their IDs. As soon as you’re called up, briefly (and confidently) explain that you’re flying without an ID and will need to pass through that extra layer of security. Handle yourself like someone who knows her rights, but whatever you do, don’t come across as cocky -- you don't want to rile up anybody with the authority to keep you off the plane.

... and then be ready to wait

You've been in an airport recently -- TSA is kind of busy these days. So the agent tasked with your second security check isn’t likely to come bouncing up the moment he’s summoned. Prepare to idle.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Take all questions in stride

Over the course of my four separate pat-downs, I faced a bizarre range of questions, from the standard, “Where are you headed?” to the slightly stranger, “Where do you think you lost your license?” (Does it matter?) It honestly felt like the agents were just trying to get a feel for my general level of sanity (which they're trained to do as part of the behavioral detection program), which of course made me nervous, which was probably not the best vibe to be putting out there.

Some ID is better than no ID at all

If you’re gonna be the dolt who loses her license, the best-case scenario is to be a dolt with another form of picture ID. Sure, a Costco card isn’t government-issued, but the agent who conducts the additional security is going to ask for anything that proves you are who you say. Between my Visa and my ATM card, I was mostly able to appease the authorities, but a 10-year-old grad school ID probably would have carried a lot more weight. 

Also, if your wallet is stolen, be sure to file a police report. The paperwork provided by the police will often suffice for your missing license.

rj lerich/Shutterstock

The smaller the airport, the more likely you’ll face pushback

On my flight out, I got stranded in Dallas for the night, thanks to several nearby tornados. No problem! I spent the night in an airport hotel and ate chicken-fried steak at Applebee’s. But on the way home, that same twister nonsense forced my flight to bypass DFW entirely and instead land and disembark in... Abilene! Yes, Abilene, where the airport has maybe three full-time employees and the sole cafeteria doesn't sell booze. (It does have a giant stuffed moose, however.) So when it was time to reboard our plane, I wasn’t even remotely surprised that the 17-year-old taking tickets refused to believe that you can travel without an ID. "You’re not getting on this plane," she trilled, apparently not understanding that I had already boarded the original flight earlier that morning without a problem. It took a half-hour to find someone familiar enough with the TSA manual to let me board, mere moments before pushback. If you can, stick to the larger, moose-free airports.

Do NOT attempt this overseas

It’s all well and good to lose your wallet on domestic soil -- Abilene excepting -- but international travel is a whole other bag. Lose your passport while traveling overseas, and you have to apply for an emergency replacement (here's how). Travel idiocy, like so much other idiocy, is much more widely accepted stateside.

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Meaghan Agnew is a Boston-based writer who pets strange dogs with impunity. Follow her on Twitter: @meaghandeth

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