*Disclaimer: I do not recommend traveling without any form of identification. Ever. But under extreme situations (like your wallet is stolen the night before a flight), then you gotta do what you gotta do. This post is about my recent journey flying without an ID. I do have Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check which may have helped in my situation. A quick one-night business trip, my hotel and meals were already covered. A co-worker paid for my airport parking with her corporate credit card. I was lucky that I was not traveling alone this time. It is the only reason I still went through with my trip.*
In my 16 years of regular travel, I have never forgotten my ID…until this morning, that is. To make matters worse, I not only forgot my ID but my entire wallet. Cash. Credit cards. Anything and everything to prove I am who I say I am was sitting in my living room in another purse. Yikes. Naturally, I didn’t even realize I didn’t have any identification on me until after I had reached the airport and parked exactly 40 minutes before my flight boarding time. Yes, I am THAT traveler. When you’ve been in as many airports as I have, you tend to show up and board without issue usually. Sitting at a gate? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I have heard of other passengers losing their wallet or having their passport stolen and being able to fly back home or to their destination. After getting over the initial shock of my mistake, I grabbed my bag and headed into the airport. Having successfully done this now, here is my rundown and some tips should you ever find yourself in this situation.
Check Your Bag and Print Your Boarding Pass
I was traveling for a quick overnight business trip with just my purse and a small backpack. If you are traveling without ID, I would highly recommend checking your bag(s). Remember you will have to go through additional screening at security which will take time. Avoid this by checking your bag—even if it’s just a carry-on.
Don’t rely on your electronic boarding pass either. I had a feeling they may need to write down additional codes on my boarding pass so I opted to stop at the check-in area and grab a paper boarding pass. Turned out I was right, and while maybe I wouldn’t have had any issues with using the boarding pass on my United app, I’m glad I didn’t take any chances. While at the check-in area, I explained my situation to a United employee who advised I would need to explain I was traveling without an ID once I reached the front of the security line.
If you are traveling without ID, I would highly recommend checking your bag(s). Remember you will have to go through additional screening at security which will take time. Avoid this by checking your bag—even if it’s just a carry-on.
Get To The Front of the Security Line
If you have TSA Pre-Check, I highly recommend still going through the Pre-Check line. If you are traveling through a busy airport without an ID, each second is precious; don’t waste any time going through a regular security line that may be significantly longer.
I reached the front of the TSA Pre-Check line and calmly explained the situation to the TSA agent while apologizing to the passengers in line behind me. Because I knew exactly what they were thinking.
Verifying You Are Who You Say You Are
After waiting a few minutes with a lead TSA officer, another TSA officer, whom I call George for the purposes of this story, introduced himself. George leads me over to a different part of the security area and asks if I had any identification on me—credit cards, gym membership with my photo, or a Costco card. I meekly reply, “No, but I do have a business card with my name on it. Would that help?” He then said, “Okay no problem, I understand. What about a bill with your address on it?” to which I replied “No, I don’t have that as well. But I could pull up a digital version of a past utility bill or bank statement” while silently cursing the situation I put myself in knowing the other purse with my wallet also had a bill in it. Argh.
Lacking any physical proof of my identity, I filled out a form called a Certification of Identity with my name, address, and signature. George explained it would take a minimum of 20 minutes to verify my identity. After dialing a number and being on hold for what felt like forever, but in reality, was probably only five minutes, he began speaking to the voice on the other end. After explaining the situation to the remote TSA officer, George began relaying a series of questions the mystery TSA agent was asking. What is the make and model of your car? What is the name of a close relative? Relation? What are the last four digits of your cell phone number? What state issued your social security number?
After the Q&A session, George asked for the officer’s name and jotted down some numbers on this form. And like that, I passed. Whew. Yes, I breathed a sigh of relief because even though you should be able to answer the questions, you have no idea what they are going to ask you and everyone is looking at you wondering what the heck is going on. I seriously blanked for two seconds on naming a close relative for crying out loud. Sorry, Daddy.
Think that’s it? Think again. If you successfully verify your identity, you’ll then have to go through enhanced screening.
The Mack Daddy of Airport Screening
If you ever find yourself traveling without an ID, this is why they tell you to allow for at least two hours to get through security. Why? Because you can kiss your pretty pre-check status goodbye for the time being. You’ll go through regular security where you’ll forget to take your shoes off because you can’t even remember the last time you had to remove your shoes. You’ll also have to take out your laptop and other electronics. How easily we forget these basic instructions, I tell ya.
After going through the body scanner (or metal detector), you’ll wait for your bags to clear the x-ray machine. And then two agents will grab your belongings and escort you to the inspection area. One agent will do a pat-down while the other checks your belongings, which I have to say is nice from an efficiency perspective.
The Pat Down
The pat-down isn’t that bad. A TSA officer of the same gender as you will explain what is going to happen and give you the option to have the screening down in private. I opted to get it over with in public, because I had zero time to waste and I really didn’t care. I stood with my feet shoulder-width apart and my palms up while the female TSA officer patted me down from my hair to the front and back of my dress, down my arms and each leg. The agent will then swab their hands to check your body against a GE Itemizer, the machine that can detect trace amounts of explosives and narcotics. Your shoes and any outerwear will also be swabbed. It was all pretty quick.
On the other hand, having my bag inspected was not quick. I was pretty happy I only had a small backpack for this short overnight business trip. Because TSA will swab every inch of your belongings. Every. Single. Electronic. Device. You. Have. In our world of 2.5 devices per person, that means your laptop, your tablet, and your cell phone. This is when you silently wish you were someone living off the grid without any damn electronic devices.
Once the machine clears all of your belongings, you’ll be all set and ready to make the mad dash to your gate. If you travel like me, you go through that process and only have 13 minutes to get from security to the people movers (who doesn’t love those ancient relics?) to the D gates at the Washington-Dulles International Airport. But 24 minutes after I began the process, I made it to my gate with two minutes to spare.
Moral of This Story?
Don’t leave your damn wallet at home. I learned my lesson and will always, always double-check I have my wallet and photo ID before flying. Hopefully, future flying experiences won’t impact my pre-check and global entry statuses. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow evening when I attempt to fly back to DC from the joy that is Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport.
But if you do forget or lose your ID, don’t panic. Remain calm, friendly, and humble. Follow the directions of the TSA officers assisting you. At the end of the day, they are simply doing their job to keep all passengers flying safe. Getting frustrated or antsy isn’t going to help your situation. Digital copies of anything proving your identity will be absolutely worthless so arrive with plenty of time to spare.