Navigating a Nightmare: How to Get Through TSA Without an ID

PHOTO: Jim Lambert/Shutterstock

Just because you’ve lost your identity (card), doesn’t mean you have to lose your seat assignment.

It’s the nightmare every traveler fears. You pack your bags, get to the airport early, check into your flight, then it hits you—your ID is sitting on your nightstand. That weekend getaway to Cancún you were about to enjoy? Cancel it. All your friends that are meeting you there? They’re not your friends anymore.

Not so fast! The TSA has a procedure for jet-lagged, vulnerable passengers that show up to the airport without an ID. It involves secondary forms of identification, TSA’s ID Verification Call Center (IVCC), and additional security measures that help the TSA confirm that you are, in fact, you. Here’s everything you need to know about getting through security without an ID.

First Things First: Getting to the Airport

If you know ahead of time that you’re going to be traveling through security without an ID, try to arrive at the airport as early as possible. Believe it or not, “two hours early” may not be enough in this case. Additionally, consider the size of the airport you’ll be departing from. The TSA officers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the TSA officers at Asheville Regional Airport operate differently. The bigger the airport, the more likely the TSA officers are well-versed in the intricacies of the ID-less traveler procedure, simply because they’re much busier. 

TSA’s Procedure in a Nutshell

You will only be allowed onto your flight if the TSA can first verify your identity and then you successfully pass through security. Whether or not your identity is verified depends on the personal information you offer to the TSA. You will be asked to provide your name, current address, and any secondary forms of identification you might possess. The information you give will then be cross-checked for validity using personal information that is already publicly available. You also might have to answer some (very) personal questions using that same set of publicly available info, all of which we’ll get to later.

Yup, there’s a lot of information on you out there. It’s 2019, people. Once your identity is verified, you’ll be allowed to enter the security screening process, where you’ll be subjected to more thorough screening measures.

Secondary Forms of Identification

Go up to the TSA document checker and explain your predicament. You might be asked to sign a Certification of Identity form with your name and address. It includes a disclaimer which basically says you consent to the government reviewing your personal information. Then, you’re pulled aside and the procedure begins. According to the TSA’s blog, you will be asked to provide “two secondary forms of identification with the following information: name, a photo, address, phone number, social security number, date of birth”. Even if you left your ID at home, there’s a good chance that you’re carrying something with the aforementioned information. Credit cards, school IDs, iPhone photos of your ID, even prescription medication with your name on it—all could help your case.

If you’re traveling with family, show them those family photos. If your wallet was stolen, bring the police report. The more identifying items/forms you hand over, the better your chances of boarding your flight. Just graduated? Whip out that diploma. Leaving Vegas? Show them the marriage license. This is not a joke; literally anything helps. “You are encouraged to provide as much information and documentation as possible,” says the TSA themselves.

The Identity Verification Call Center (IVCC)

Here’s where it gets interesting. In May of 2018, the TSA released a redacted version of its 2013 ID verification procedures in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by The Identity Project. You can view them here. It’s unclear whether all cases of ID-less passengers go through the IVCC or if simply providing loads of secondary forms of identification will suffice. Regardless, after you’ve provided secondary identification, a TSA officer may call into the IVCC. On the other end of the line, “someone” ensures that the information you have provided is accurate and/or asks certain identifying questions that are then relayed to you by the TSA officer.

The officer may ask you to spell your mom’s name or the name of a church near your house. Who knows how exactly the hidden voice on the other end of the line verifies your identity, but speculation abounds. Per the TSA’s website, “TSA has other ways to confirm your identity, like using publicly available databases, so you can reach your flight.” Hmm.

And what if you get the questions wrong? Tough luck boarding that flight. If anyone should know the name of the closest hospital to your address, it’s you. If you decline to cooperate with this procedure or the TSA cannot verify your identity using the information they have been provided, you will simply be denied passage through security.

Going Through Security

Perhaps it’s now time to start looking at going through security at the airport as a two-part process. First, you prove your identity, then you actually go through security. Travelers tend to gloss over the identity screening process because it’s fairly straightforward: hand over your ID and boarding pass, wait for the officer to verify they’re legit, and enjoy your flight.

But for ID-less travelers, no part of going through TSA is straightforward. Once your identity has been verified, you aren’t treated like a “normal” passenger. You are subjected to a separate and additional security screening process that is certainly more time-consuming and no less invasive than the standard screening procedures. Be prepared for thorough pat-downs and hand-swabbing. In addition to going through an X-ray machine, any luggage you carry on will probably be manually inspected by a TSA officer, too. Remember: “two hours early” may not be enough.

I Need You to Remain Calm

If you already hate waiting in long and slow TSA lines, try going through one without an ID. However, just because you’re undergoing more thorough security measures, doesn’t guarantee your safe and successful passage to The Other Side. As always, stay calm and be polite. TSA officers are trained to detect any nervous or suspicious activity. If you scream at an officer for mishandling your golf clubs or loudly complain about how unconstitutional the identity verification process is, chances are you just registered on their “suspicious” radar. Remember: you’re the one who forgot their ID.

If you’re reading this article in the backseat of an Uber on the way to the airport, congratulations! You know what to expect. The fate of your vacation is out of your hands. Sit back, relax, and surrender yourself to the process.