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Flying Without ID? Here’s How It’s Possible

When I was a kid, I used to have a recurring nightmare about showing up at school without studying for a big test. Now that I’m an adult who travels frequently, the nightmare has morphed into showing up at the airport without my passport or driver’s license. But did you know that flying without ID isn’t necessarily impossible?

That’s right: Even if you leave your wallet at home, you could still be able to board a flight. (You might have problems paying for things once you arrive, but that’s a whole other story.) Here’s what you need to know about flying without ID.

Flying Without ID in the U.S.

If you show up to the airport for a domestic flight without your driver’s license, you still have a chance of making it onto the plane. You don’t need ID to check in with your airline on your phone, and gate agents generally look only at boarding passes, not ID, when you’re getting onto a domestic flight—so your only real hurdle is the airport security checkpoint.

If possible, try to arrive earlier than you usually would to allow for extra screening. According to TSA spokesperson Mike England, you’ll have to fill out a release form that states your name, the last four digits of your Social Security number, and your home address. “This grants the TSA permission to check your Social Security records,” says England.

“Once the form is signed, TSA will ask a series of identity-verifying questions. They relay the questions asked by a remote officer who does the actual record checks: Where were you born? What state was your [Social Security number] issued in? What are its last four digits? Mother’s maiden name? Father’s name and place of birth? These questions vary, but they should generally be available on your birth certificate, assuming you’re a natural-born citizen.”

Once your identity has been verified to the TSA agent’s satisfaction, you’ll be able to go through the checkpoint. Expect additional screening if you’re flying without ID, says England: “The passenger will receive a patdown, go through the AIT [advanced imaging technology, or full-body scanner], and have their carry-on bags inspected.”

Flying Without ID Internationally

Can you fly without ID if you’re headed out of the country? In this case, the answer is no.

It doesn’t make a difference to the TSA whether you’re traveling within the U.S. or to a foreign country, says England; if the screening agent can verify your identity, you can go through the checkpoint. But you’ll be out of luck once you get to the gate. “The airline will not allow you to board an international flight without a passport,” England says.

A spokesperson from American Airlines concurs: “For international flights, you will need to obtain a passport. If you lost a passport, you will have to contact the nearest embassy/consulate.”

To help expedite the process of getting another passport, keep a photo of your passport in a secure spot on your phone and bring a couple of passport-sized pictures with you on every trip (two inches by two inches). If your passport was stolen, make sure to get a police report as documentation for why you need a new ID. Find more information on what to do about a lost or stolen passport here.

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