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December 01, 2009

Can You Travel Without Valid Photo ID?

Globe-photodisc2 On a trip last week to Phoenix, Arizona, I managed to misplace my driver's license, leaving me to sweat for 48 hours before my return flight about how I was going to get home. And despite the fact that I ultimately found my ID hidden in an obscure zipper pocket the day before flying (go figure), it did give me a chance to dig into the rules and regulations about flying without valid photo ID. The good news? It is quite possible to fly without official ID. The bad news? That's little consolation if you only discover you've lost this documentation on arrival at the airport with the clock ticking down, or worse yet, you lose your wallet or purse containing ID as well as all other identifying documents such as credit cards and health-insurance cards. Here's why.

People lose their IDs all the time, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledges as much on its website. But TSA is understandably oblique on this point, stopping short of definitively saying that, yes, you can travel without any acceptable forms of ID. If you're ID-less, you should expect an additional layer of screening and questioning at the security checkpoint, but as TSA spokesperson Lauren Gaches told me, "We will work with passengers to verify their identity to ensure that they get to their destination safely." So be prepared to spend some extra time at security, which could potentially cause you to miss your flight. TSA will only let you through once they can be sure you are who you say you are.

If you do lose your ID and discover this prior to heading to the airport, don't panic. One useful thing to do is always travel with a backup paper copy of your driver's license or passport. It'll come in handy if you ever need to establish identity to that TSA guy on the security line. Also, email yourself scans of the above documents, as well as your birth certificate and marriage license (if you have one), so you can print these out on the road and have them to hand. Lastly, get to the airport well ahead of time so you've got time to clear the extra security layer before your flight. You might breeze through in the same amount of time as usual, or the airport could be unexpectedly busy and it takes twice as long. You never know, so plan accordingly. As TSA's Lauren Gaches kept stressing to me when I spoke to her on this matter, "We're more than happy to work with the individual to help them through the screening process," but TSA reserves the right to hold you back for any reason.

Illustration credit: Photodisc/Getty

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Related Topics: Air Travel · Travel Tips


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Good info- though I hope I never have to use it!

Nice post. I have always wondered what would happen if I lost my driver's license on a trip. This is somewhat comforting news.

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