Yes, You Can Fly Without an ID (Maybe)

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fly without an idGetting through airport security without a driver’s license or passport can be done — and I should know, because I did it. But it’s not an experience I would recommend.

Can you get through airport security without flashing a driver’s license or passport? Yes, it is possible to fly without an ID — but I wouldn’t recommend it. I only know this because, like an idiot, I somehow managed to drop my driver’s license on my car seat instead of into my pocket as I dashed from my car into Boston’s Logan airport on my way to Asheville, N.C., for a fam trip last summer.

I was running a little late, and thought I’d be smart and have my license already in my pocket so I wouldn’t have to juggle my stuff getting it out of my wallet while in the security line. This was one of those crazy-early morning flights and I’d been up since about 2 a.m. and was not at my best and brightest, so I kept checking my pocket to make sure I had my license as I dashed through the airport. Yep, that comforting little lump hadn’t fallen out during my mad dash.

The line was, of course, hugely long, and by the time I got to the TSA agent I was getting a little tight on time. I pulled out what I thought was my license — and for some reason it had transformed into a business card. What?! Somehow, in my fumbling around in the car, I must have grabbed that card and left the license sitting on the car seat (which, in fact, was where I found it when I got back).

“Um, is there any way I can get on that plane without a license?” I begged the TSA agent, giving her my best puppy-dog-eye look.

“Do you have a passport?” she asked.

“Not with me,” I replied, getting ready to slink off and start making calls to my fam trip host to try to explain why I’d have to rebook for a later flight because, well, I’m an idiot.

Then a miracle happened: The TSA agent asked me what else I had for ID — all hope was not yet lost! I emptied out my wallet, throwing out credit cards, my library card, my Petco rewards card — whatever I could find. The credit card was good for one form of ID, but now she needed two more.

“Do you have any prescription drugs with your name on the label?” she asked. I did! Of course, the zipper on my suitcase jammed and we both had to wrestle it into submission, but eventually I pulled out my emergency antibiotic prescription bottle I always carry with me, just in case.

Then she asked me the weirdest question I’ve ever gotten from a TSA agent:

“Are you a Costco member?”

Well yes, yes I am. I pulled out my Costco card, which I had totally forgotten has a miniscule photo of me in the corner. But it was enough to get me on that plane — along with a very complete search of my person and my stuff. And, needless to say, a whole lot of dirty looks from the people behind me in line.

I got lucky, and since I’m usually not a super-lucky person, the first call I made when I landed in Asheville was to my husband to ask him to Fed Ex my passport to my hotel so I didn’t have to repeat the experience when the time came to head back to Boston.

So yes, it is possible to fly without a driver’s license or passport, but folks, don’t try this at home! It was nerve-wracking and terrifying and so embarrassing I can’t believe I’m admitting to it now in writing. But here we are.

Acceptable IDs You May Not Know About

Because misery loves company, I was so happy when I read this story on CNN this morning about another person who managed to fly without an ID. But, as it turns out, her story was less insanely luck-based than mine. She had a Global Entry membership and was going through the TSA PreCheck lane (something I keep saying I’m going to do but never seem to get around to actually doing it — get Global Entry, that is, not try to fly without an ID). That Global Entry card also has your photo and works as an alternate ID — who knew?

Just in case you ever find yourself in this predicament, here are some other TSA-approved forms of ID you can use, according to the TSA website:

  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

Please note that a Costco card is most definitely not on this official list.

If you, like me, grab someone’s business card instead of your ID, or just leave it at home or the dog ate it or whatever, TSA actually does address just this situation on its website as well, under the helpful heading of, “Forgot your ID?”

“In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity. If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint. You will be subject to additional screening, to include a pat down and screening of carry-on property.”

They add, quite helpfully, “TSA recommends that you arrive at least two hours in advance of your flight time.” Which is good advice, even if you do have proper ID on hand, because the regular, non-PreCheck TSA lines seem to be getting longer and slower all the time.

More Good Reasons to Get PreCheck

If you, like me, need a little more impetus to go get that Global Entry or PreCheck membership already, here’s another good reason.

According to this article on NBC News, PreCheck members may soon not have to show any physical ID at all. It’s actually already happening at some airports — and the list of airports doing this is growing. However, at this point it’s still dependent on some specific factors, like if you’re a PreCheck member who’s flying on United out of Chicago’s O’Hare or LAX.

But that is already changing. According to an announcement by TSA parent organization the Department of Homeland Security in November, three companies have been contracted to come up with self-screening technology that will help speed up the already faster PreCheck lines. The announcement describes the plan thusly:

“Like self-ordering kiosks at fast food and sit-down restaurants, self-service screening allows passengers in the Trusted Traveler Program to complete the security screening process on their own,” said Screening at Speed Program Manager Dr. John Fortune. “Travelers will use passenger and carry-on screening systems at individual consoles or screening lanes themselves, reducing the number of pat downs and bag inspections TSOs need to perform and freeing their time to be reallocated to the busier aspects of screening operations. The feedback we’ve already received during testing from both mock passengers and TSOs has been incredibly positive.”

You can learn more about the specific technologies being developed here. Or, if you happen to be a PreCheck member and are flying to or from (or through, if you step outside the secured zone) Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport, one of the self-screening prototypes is already being used to speed up its PreCheck lines.

Is there a moral to this story? Not really, other than to stop procrastinating and get PreCheck (or Clear, or Global Entry, depending on your flying habits), if you haven’t already. Oh, and don’t forget your ID. Duh.

OK, just one more: Be very nice to those TSA agents, who are working hard under very stressful circumstances. You never know when you may have to depend on the kindness of those uniformed strangers!

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