No ID, No Problem?

ROAM would never suggest you brave the airport without your driver’s license or passport, but if you do, all is (probably) not lost.

By Maria De La O


Have you ever been caught without your ID as you’re about to board a plane? What’s going to happen? A cavity search? The brig? Will you have to, God forbid, spend a couple of extra days in Hawai’i trying to locate your driver’s license or passport while your family travels back to Minnesota? (Hey, maybe there’s an upside to this whole “problem,” after all.)

I’m embarrassed to admit I made this rookie mistake—recently. And I didn’t miss my flight home. (Damn.) Herewith, a guide to navigating the nightmare of no airport identification. Keep in mind this advice only applies to domestic travel; the TSA has no jurisdiction over what other countries will let you do. 

This is what happened on my recent misadventure.

Do you have another photo ID in your wallet? I had a photo of my driver’s license on my phone, but no dice. A photo wasn’t acceptable identification. The TSA kept asking me for a Costco card. Sorry, I’m not usually a big-box shopper—although I’m now considering purchasing a membership for “unforeseen emergencies.” OK, do you have a student ID, a military ID, even perhaps a key card from work? Anything with your name and picture on it? This is the most headache-free way to clear security and you’ll barely slow down on your way to the x-ray machine. 

But since I lacked an ID, a higher-ranking TSA officer was summoned as I waited to the side of the line. When she arrived, the nice TSA woman asked, Do you happen to have a bank statement or utility bill in your luggage? Not something I normally stuff in my carry-on, but it’s been known to happen. And if I had done it this time… problem solved!

No Costco card, no water bill. At this point, I was about to log on to Hotels.com to find a room—preferably on the beach—while I waited for my family to FedEx my passport from home, but I wasn’t off the plane yet. The security woman started grasping for anything. Finally, she asked me if I had a prescription with my name on it. That I did! Together with a couple of credit cards, my Cymbalta prescription proved my identity. Never has an antidepressant produced so much joy.

At this point, my security lady escorted me through the line while another officer thoroughly riffled through my bag. But according to the TSA website, if you fail to have an alternate photo ID, utility bill, or prescription, you’re likely to still be able to board your flight. Assuming you got to the airport in plenty of time, because the next steps may take a while. 

“In the event you arrive at the airport without proper ID, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly,” the TSA says on its website. “By providing additional information, TSA has other ways to confirm your identity, like using publicly available databases, so you can reach your flight.” 

Yep, unless you live completely off the grid, Unabomber-style, no one is anonymous in the digital age. You will be asked to fill out a form, called a Certification of Identity form, attesting to the fact that you are you, and that the TSA has permission to search various databases to confirm your identity. And then you’ll wait until security contacts the ID Verification Call Center. 

You then may be asked some personal questions that you hopefully should be able to answer. According to the Identity Project, a nonprofit that advocates for First Amendment issues, some questions asked may include: What’s the name of the hospital a few blocks away from your home? What kind of car does your mother drive? What are some of your neighbors names?

It can be invasive, and all of this additional screening can vary a bit from airport to airport. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual TSA agents to decide whether you’ve proven your identity. So—and this is important—don’t freak out! It’s vital that you don’t give anyone a hard time. Do like your mama taught you and remember your manners and stay calm. The TSA is just doing their job.   

Maria De La O – April 2022

ROAM Executive Editor   

Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria brings it all to the pages of ROAM.  

© ROAM Family Travel 2022 – All rights reserved

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