After a night out in Chicago, Traci Fox woke up to discover that her wallet was missing. And she panicked.
“The next morning, my passport and credit card arrived, plus $40 my father threw in,” she says. “I got on the plane just fine.”
There it is, one of the most enduring post-9/11 air-travel myths: If you don’t have a driver’s license or passport, you can’t fly. And although that’s certainly true for international trips, where you need a passport to cross a border, it’s not that way for domestic flights.
If you lost your ID, you’ll probably freak out, much like Fox did. But the good news is that you can still travel. And in the remote chance that you can’t, there are still options.
Can you fly without an ID?
If you show up at the airport without a driver’s license or passport, you may still be able to board your flight, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
TSA accepts several forms of ID, including a passport or a passport card; a trusted traveler card, such as Global Entry or Nexus; and a Defense Department ID. Also on TSA’s approved list: tribal IDs, foreign passports, Veteran Health Identification cards and even Merchant Mariner credentials.
If you don’t have any of the accepted IDs, you’ll be asked to show two alternative forms of ID. One of them must show your name and identifying information, such as a photo, address, phone number or Social Security number, according to TSA.
If you don’t have any acceptable alternate form of ID, a TSA employee will ask you to complete an identity verification process by filling out a TSA Form 415, also known as a Certification of Identity form. It asks for your full name, current address, signature and date. TSA uses that information to verify your identity.
If TSA can verify your identity through alternate IDs or a Form 415, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint. But you may also receive a pat-down and a more thorough screening of your property, according to TSA.
What if you’re not let through security?
Even if you’re turned away at the security screening area, you still have options. Most airlines have an unofficial “flat tire” rule, which allows you to get rebooked on the next available flight at no extra charge. The rule, which gets its name from passengers who miss a flight because of a flat tire, could also apply to a lost ID. It would give you more time to find an acceptable ID and continue your journey. If TSA won’t allow you through security because of a lost ID, be sure to mention the flat tire rule to your airline agent when you return to the counter to get rebooked.
Options for travelers who have lost their IDs
There may be a new way to handle a lost ID: Three states — Arizona, Maryland and Colorado — now allow you to use digital IDs on your Apple devices such as iPhones or Apple Watch via the Apple Wallet app. At least two other states, Florida and Louisiana, have a digital ID option for driver’s licenses. And more states are in the process of adding digital ID choices, including Connecticut, Ohio and Utah.
TSA accepts mobile drivers’ licenses in some airports, including Baltimore, Dallas and Las Vegas, but their use is limited to travelers who are enrolled in TSA PreCheck and opted in to using a digital ID.
“With that said, we strongly encourage travelers to have their actual physical driver’s license with them, in case there is an additional need to verify someone’s identity,” adds TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
A photo of your ID doesn’t count. Laura Ericson, a travel planner from Baltimore who specializes in group trips, left her ID at home before a recent flight. She had digital copies of her license and passport, as well as social media apps with photos of her on her phone.
“But the TSA agent would not take anything from my phone,” she remembers. “She asked if I had anything printed with my name on it in my luggage, such as mail. I ended up finding a prescription bottle and a rental car reservation with my name, which she accepted.”
TSA escorted her to a screening area, where she received a pat-down. Agents screened every item in her bag for explosives, which took an extra 30 minutes. But she made her flight.
The agency’s latest face-recognition technology, described by The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler in a recent story, would not allow you to bypass the system, at least for now. Its new face scanners compare the image on your ID to your face, so they don’t work without an ID.
Can you check into a hotel or rent a car without an ID?
Even if you board the plane, you might have some trouble checking into your hotel or renting a car when you arrive. Many properties require both a valid government ID and the original credit card used to make the booking to check in.
But there are ways around that, too.
Some chain hotels have fully automated check-in processes. If you’re a member of the hotel’s loyalty program, you can check in without an ID, using a confirmation number or the company’s app. Similarly, being a member of a car rental company’s loyalty program means your driver’s license and credit card are stored in its system, so there’s no need to show your license to anyone. If you have a digital license, you can legally drive the car.
“If you don’t have an ID to check into your hotel, give the hotel front desk a call,” says Lauren LaBar, a travel and experience lead at the travel app Upaway. “Hotels are typically flexible in allowing alternative forms of identification for check-in, especially for prepaid and prebooked stays.”
I’ve seen hotel receptionists quickly dismiss ID requirements as I fumbled for my passport during check-in. I can recall only one case in three decades of consumer advocacy where someone was turned away at a hotel because they didn’t have the right ID. Technically, they didn’t have the original credit card used to book the reservation. I negotiated an apology and a full refund for their hotel stay, so if it happens to you, you know whom to call.
The future of ID requirements
If you travel outside of the United States, it doesn’t take long before you see that there’s a better way. Passports and IDs are easy to damage or lose. Some countries are working on electronic versions, as I reported recently.
When I traveled from Cyprus to Israel this fall, a kiosk in Tel Aviv scanned my U.S. passport, and I passed through customs without even talking to an agent. Israel runs its threat assessments before you show up at the airport, allowing you to avoid the security hassle of domestic air travel. It was the easiest trip through customs ever — and in a country with a reputation for super-strict security.
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