Can You Fly Without ID? Here’s How My Wife Flew After Losing Hers

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Can You Fly Without ID? Here's How My Wife Flew After Losing Hers

Can You Fly Without ID? Here’s How My Wife Flew After Losing Hers

Surprisingly, you can fly without ID. It’s not ideal and not the way things are intended to work, but what if you lose your ID? That’s exactly what happened with my wife on a recent trip. On the flights home, she didn’t have any government ID. Here’s what we learned, in case you are ever in a similar situation.

The Lost ID

My wife and I flew with Alaska Airlines up to Anchorage, Alaska, stayed 5 days, and then flew back to my parents’ in Florida where we are temporarily staying while my wife looks for a job after just graduating from vet school. (This is relevant for later)

On the outbound flights, we had a connection through Seattle (SEA) that arrived at 10pm and departed the next morning at 6am. When we got to Seattle, we decided to head to the Hampton Inn nearby and sleep for a few hours, heading back to the airport for our flight in the morning.

We have CLEAR and Global Entry, which gives us access to TSA PreCheck. For security in SEA, we went through the CLEAR line. My wife started to pull out her ID, remembered she didn’t need it, and stuffed it in her jacket pocket.

As we were taking our seats in the plane, she realized her ID was no longer in her pocket. Did it fall out while walking to the gate? Never actually made it into her pocket? Fell out while removing her jacket at airport security?

At this point, we didn’t have time to go back to look for it.

In Alaska, we called the SEA airport lost & found a few times, but the ID never showed up. Thus, in 5 days, we’d be flying from Alaska back to Florida without any ID for my wife.

Images of passports from around the world

How to Fly Without ID

After Googling for other people’s experiences, we gathered up everything we could. We had the following:

  • Photo of my wife’s Florida ID
  • Photo of my wife’s US passport
  • Credit cards with her name on them
  • Expired student ID from her vet school in Brazil (expired at the end of 2021) but has a picture of her face

Amazingly, there is quite a list of what can count as identification at airport security. You can see the full list here.

Gather Documents

What if you just don’t have any of those? Gather up everything you can that will help prove who you are. Costco card with your face on it. Credit cards. Utility bill showing your name and address. Police report for stolen wallet. Anything helps.

Check In Online if You Can

We checked in online to avoid airport agents asking for ID and then having to explain all of the situation to them. Since we had a checked suitcase, we made sure to put it in my name. That way, I could show ID when dropping it off.

If you have TSA PreCheck, add your number anyway. You won’t be able to use the PreCheck lane, but this can be an extra form of “proving who you are” later on.

Arrive Early

Security screening when you need to fly without ID is going to take extra time. Plan for that by arriving early.

Be Up-Front

As soon as we got to the security checkpoint, we told the officer what happened. We showed everything we could must to prove my wife’s identity.

He said that the official policy is that “without a government-issued ID in hand, it doesn’t count”. Thus, he couldn’t just wave us through–even though he was confident my wife was who she claimed to be.

Extra Screening

The agent will call for someone from extra screening. If you have ever had the SSSS on your boarding pass, this is the same screening.

Goodbye TSA PreCheck privileges, you’ll be taking off your shoes, pull out your liquids, and get the full pat-down. Everything is coming out of your bags to be tested for bomb materials, and you’ll be asked extra questions.

The Process is Worse if You Have No Documents

But what if you have…nothing? Like, really nothing? If you lost your whole wallet, you won’t have credit cards or a student ID or any of that stuff. While pictures of your ID could help, if you have nothing in hand, the screening process goes further.

Before you can start the pat-downs and baggage inspection, TSA must be certain that you are the passenger whose name is on the boarding pass. They can pull you aside and call a central phone number to conduct identity verification. There’s an interesting story here from a woman who was asked questions similar to what you get from credit card applications over the phone sometimes.

Former addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. — come prepared with those details.

Image of CLEAR at an airport, which you can use to fly without ID

You Can Also Use CLEAR

Amazingly, if you have CLEAR, you won’t need an ID at all. Unfortunately, none of the airports in Alaska have CLEAR, so that didn’t help us. If you’re departing from an airport that has CLEAR, you have a membership, and you need to fly without ID for some reason, this can help you.

How Was the Experience?

I would say this added only 10 minutes to our trip, thankfully. Since we showed up early and watched for a moment to get in line when it was nearly empty, we neither held up the line nor got held up by the line.

Since we had put together as many documents as possible, this helped. TSA didn’t ask my wife any identity-verifying questions, and there was no phone call to the central station. My wife was relieved about that, since she was having difficulty correctly remembering some of our old zip codes when I quizzed her “just in case”.

Overall, it wasn’t too bad. I sat at a bench nearby and waited while TSA took everything out of my wife’s backpack, patted her down, did the “bomb residue” swabs, and all of that good stuff. After a few minutes of inspection, she was free to repack her items, put her shoes on, and continue to the gate.

You can use CLEAR to fly without ID if you have a membership. Photo of CLEAR station at an airport.

Final Thoughts

My wife had to fly home without ID after losing hers on the outbound flights. The experience wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. If you find yourself in this situation, gather up anything you can to help prove your identity. Then, show up at airport security early, prepare for an extra inspection, and maybe brush up on your old addresses and personal details if you don’t have any documents with your picture.

Obviously, you could travel with two forms of ID. You might lose both, though, so take that into consideration. It helps to know that it is possible to fly without ID if you really must.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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6 COMMENTS

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Good reason to get a passport card and keep it in your carryon or at least separate from your wallet. A Global Emtry card will also work.

    However good luck trying this on JSX. They don’t have TSA but they require ID to checkin.

    • We asked several TSA checkpoints and CLEAR checkpoints since this happened. All said they would let her go through after passing the biometric scan and showing a credit card in her name or the photos I had of her documents on my phone.

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