Is flying without photo ID a nightmare?
December 1, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How terrible is it to board a plane without a photo ID? I plan to fly to another state in late December and have no picture ID. I will have photocopies of my birth certificate and social security card. I know flying without photo ID is technically legal, but can be a huge pain. Has anyone done this before?

Yeah, I still have no photo ID*. I know it's technically legal to go to the airport without it, but it sounds like it'll be an absolute nightmare at JFK/LGA during holiday season. Has anyone ever done this? I would hate to miss Christmas with my family, but I also don't want to spend an entire day at an airport/getting even more molested by the TSA than ID-carrying passengers because I'm suspiciously without ID.

My options seem to be:

A) Apply for passport ASAP again, send in my birth certificate, SSN card and secondary forms of ID. Pay $60 expediting fee and hope it comes within 3 weeks of application time, sparing me all this drama. If it doesn't, take photocopies of BC and SSN card with me to airport.

B) Don't apply for a passport and risk it not getting to me in time, take real SSN card and birth certificate with me to the airport.

C) Apply for passport but don't fly home for Christmas. This is not as depressing as it sounds; my fiancé and I would spend the holidays together in New York City.

Back story for anyone who cares: I'm currently applying for a passport, but after finally nailing down an appointment with the post office who never picks up their phone, they turned me away because I didn't have photo ID. Never mind that I had many forms of secondary ID and an identifying witness! They said I'd be wasting my money and would be denied. So I left, then called the government passport hotline, who said I'd probably be just fine with all that evidence. But now I have to go back and reschedule a new appointment, and the wait time is about 5 days per post office, which is cutting it pretty close to my travel plans even if I pay the expediting fee that usually produces a new passport in 2-3 weeks. I can't go to a passport agency and expedite the process because I'm not traveling out of the country within 14 days.
posted by Hwaet to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could just go to the nearest DMV and get yourself an ID card (not a driver's license). Depending on your state you could leave with one on the same day or in get the mail within a week.
posted by special-k at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

Special-K is right. Spend a morning at the DMV and save yourself a massive, massive headache at the airport.
posted by LudgerLassen at 10:05 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's easier to get a passport than a state ID (I'm an NYC resident and don't drive). Passport applications allow you to bring in an identifying witness, while state IDs need much more secondary evidence and have stricter rules. It's a long story, but getting a passport first and then getting a state ID will be easier in the long run.
posted by Hwaet at 10:05 AM on December 1, 2010

I have flown without an ID within the last few years but NOT since the new scanner/enhanced TSA patdown protocols went into place. I didn't realize my error until I was AT security so with forward planning you are doing better than I. I had a credit card and a business card, nothing with a photo. I told the security person and was put into a special line that took SIGNIFICANTLY longer due to some additional questioning and screening, but it wasn't that big of a deal. This was SFO/IAD and the return. Your experience may vary.
posted by ilikecookies at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2010

This info is a little dated, but I'd still check it out:

- Things You Should Memorize When Flying Without Identification

- Flying Without a Wallet

- Travelers Test Rules on Flying Without Identification (audio)
posted by JPowers at 10:09 AM on December 1, 2010

Isn't there a passport office in NYC where you can just go stand in line? there used ot be.
posted by mareli at 10:23 AM on December 1, 2010

FWIW, 5 years ago, I lost my wallet in San Diego the night before flying back to Virginia. All I had was my printed boarding pass and my luggage tag labels from my flight to California.

I went to the airport determined to be the nicest customer on Earth, and it couldn't have been easier. I had to get wanded, but honestly, that line was shorter than the line I would have gone through with my ID.

Things are obviously different now, but I hope this helps at least a little.
posted by 4ster at 10:25 AM on December 1, 2010

Mareli, you can only go to a passport agency (as in, not the post office) if you're traveling out of the country in 2 weeks or need a foreign visa within 4 weeks. Post offices and courthouses are the only option for anyone outside of these circumstances.
posted by Hwaet at 10:31 AM on December 1, 2010

Here is the list of ID documents the TSA considers acceptable:
Effective June 21, 2008, adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID that contains the following: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto their flight.

Passengers who do not or cannot present an acceptable ID will have to provide information to the Transportation Security Officer performing Travel Document Checking duties in order to verify their identity. Passengers who are cleared through this process may be subject to additional screening. Passengers whose identity cannot be verified by TSA may not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint or onto an airplane.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 10:35 AM on December 1, 2010

I flew from Dulles airport (Washington D.C.) without an ID in September when I accidentally left my drivers license at home.

You will need your ID at two specific locations: getting your ticket at check-in and at security.

Airport employees will hum and haw, but you will be able to get through. They specifically told me that all they really want is just some form of ID/document that has both your name and picture on it. They grumbled at bit, but I ended up using my Costco ID since it had a black and white photo of myself on it.

They also wanted to see anything else I had with my name on it, like my credit cards and my insurance card, just to make sure my name matched on all of them.

All in all, it took about a half hour longer than normal to check-in, but it was doable, just bring any kind of ID with a photo and some credit cards with your name on them.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:40 AM on December 1, 2010

If it matters, I'm female and I flew September 2010 on United Airlines from Dulles to Fort Lauderdale, FL.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:42 AM on December 1, 2010

At this point, I don't think you should be over-worried about what will be "easier in the long run". Whatever takes the least amount of time that you can feasibly get, you should get. Period. Now. I don't entirely understand why you haven't acted on the advice from the previous thread.

Also, where are you from? If you are from the lower 48, just take the train. You don't need photo ID to board a train (as long as you're staying in the US, of course). Same for buses, but trains are more comfortable if you're going a long way. As I said the last time you asked this question, this is what I did when I lost my ID right around the holidays a few years ago.

But OK, let's say you are from Hawaii and you really HAVE to get home for Christmas. I had a situation not unlike what ilikecookies describes, last year around that same time - realized in the security line that my ID had fallen out of my pocket. I was able to board the plane with a prescription that had my name and address on it, a convincing sob story, and some additional security procedures.

It probably didn't hurt that this happened when I was flying out of New Orleans, and on home turf - I don't even want to think about trying to pull that at JFK. Especially with the foreknowledge that I didn't have ID, had plenty of time and options to travel another way, but just didn't get around to dealing with it. That's not a "convincing sob story", that's a "potential terrorist". They very well may not let you on the plane. I'm not sure I'd waste the money on a ticket.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mareli: they only accept expedited applications, i.e. you have to be doing international travel within the next two weeks to get an appointment there. So an oblique option would be to buy a refundable international ticket, get passport, then refund the ticket.
posted by xueexueg at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2010

Derr, didn't preview *long* after my page load.
posted by xueexueg at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2010

I lost my driver's license when I was at my destination. When I got to the ticket counter I explained the situation - they took my work ID and an RX that had my name on it. They asked if I had my check book as that would have worked as well. I think it is much easier than they'd like you to believe.
posted by Wolfie at 11:01 AM on December 1, 2010

If you are from the lower 48, just take the train

Having taken the train for long distances before, I would file that one under option C, not worth it, will never ever do again, would rather spend Christmas in New York City. This is why I'm also considering simply not traveling, because I refuse to make any arrangements include something like a long, expensive, frequently delayed train ride.

The other answers are really helpful, thank you! I have numerous things with my name attached to them, including 1099 forms, credit cards, a debit card with a photo of me, copies of my birth certificate and SSN, bills, prescription bottles, medical records, etc. Hopefully procedures haven't changed drastically since when y'all last lost your wallets and cried to the TSA employees.
posted by Hwaet at 11:02 AM on December 1, 2010

So an oblique option would be to buy a refundable international ticket, get passport, then refund the ticket.

Please don't do this. The expedited passport applications are for people who really won't be able to travel without a passport. It's not right to abuse that system just so you can avoid some hassle at the airport.
posted by grouse at 11:03 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Why if you live in NYC do you need an appointment to apply for a passport at the post office? There are lots of post offices that don't require an appointment. The last time I did this in NYC, I went to the Rockefeller Center post office without an appointment.
posted by Jahaza at 11:26 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you still have the Employee ID Card, Social Security Card, Credit Card and Birth Certificate from your previous question? If so, why aren't you just applying for a non-driver ID? You seem to meet the requirements.
posted by Jahaza at 11:45 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, I dropped my wallet on the bus to the airport the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was beside myself crying and upset so that may have helped my case but they did check me in, I think, without any ID to my name. Fortunately I got my wallet back but I checked in before I got it back. I got patted down pretty well but that was about it.
posted by kat518 at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2010

I saw a headline a week or so ago about how flying without ID actually gets you through lines faster.
posted by rhizome at 12:20 PM on December 1, 2010

As Jahaza says, you have the appropriate items to apply for a non-driver ID in NY State per the linked form. You need a total of 6 points of proof of ID plus a birth certificate to get an ID. Believe me, I know what a pain in the ass it is, but consider this: I was able to help my father obtain a non-driver ID with the following: his birth certificate (proof of DOB), social security card (2 points), health insurance card (1 point), supermarket card (1 point), utility bill (1 point), and ATM card (1 point). An employee ID card + SS card = 3 points, so just add a health insurance card, utility bill, and credit card, plus your birth certificate, and you're all set. Pro tip: go to the DMV office in lower Manhattan on Greenwich Street, as the line there is usually much shorter than the one by Herald Square.

All that said, if you'd rather not do that, you can fly without ID, but it's a big hassle. If you don't have to, I wouldn't. (Your tolerance for flying hassles may vary.)
posted by bedhead at 12:28 PM on December 1, 2010

For what it's worth, I just last month paid the $60 for an expedited passport (I was traveling out of the country and didn't realize my passport was set to expire within 6 months, and although I technically could have used it I didn't want to chance the headache of being turned away), and the turnaround time was around a week and half between when I dropped it in the mail and when I received my new booklet. I was pretty surprised; evidently there was a crush of passport applications last fall before the fees went up but now things are moving much, much faster than they promise on the website.

If it were me, an extra $60 (plus the $15 for the overnight delivery back to you) would be worth it to not chance missing a flight because I couldn't get through security. If you pay for expediting I would bet you would get your passport well in advance of your flight in late December.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:50 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah... I see it's 4 points plus a Social Security Card... I had read it as 4 points including the Social Security Card. The OP may not have enough points to get a non-driver ID if the utility bill changes haven't gone through yet.
posted by Jahaza at 12:53 PM on December 1, 2010

I do not have all six points to get a state ID. I don't have a regular, full-time job at the moment, only freelance stuff, so no insurance card, W-2 forms (they won't take my 1099s), and the employee ID was actually just something from an old freelance job that got me into the building. It has no identification number and the picture is unrecognizably blurry. The people at the post office quickly dismissed it. For once in my life, I have no utility bills in my name. Though I can switch them over to my name, it'll take a few weeks for everything to go into effect.

I just got went through this list with someone at the DMV and determined that I only have 4 out of 6 possible points (SSN card, pay stub, ATM card), and 5 out of 6 if I get a utility bill in my name. Unlike the passport application, I can't use my college transcript (I have no college ID) and a witness affidavit to my advantage.
posted by Hwaet at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2010

Captial One allows you to put photos on credit cards. Get one of those. With that (hey it has your pic and name), ssn#, birth certificate, and a piece of mail with your current address (mail it to yourself if you need to) you should be able to get on a plane.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:04 PM on December 1, 2010

Can you get a copy of your high school diploma and a utility bill changed over? It might take less time than the passport application. High school diploma counts for a point.
posted by bedhead at 1:05 PM on December 1, 2010

I flew from NYC to Atlanta and I HAD a Photo ID, but it was an expired drivers license. I knew it was expired, but I didn't think that mattered, since I wasn't using it to drive with. After all, it was still me. And It was only a year out-of-date. And I still looked like the photo. AND I had other (non-photo) ID with me.

I'd used it before when flying and no one cared -- or they didn't notice the date. But this time someone did notice, and they detained me for 20 minutes. In the end, they did let me fly, but only after a grilling (What's your address? Where did you go to High School? etc.), a lecture and a call to Homeland Security (or some other agency -- I forget) to check that I was who I said I was.

So it depends on the day and the person who checks your ID.

Sorry, not the answer you want, I'm sure. But, after that experience, I will never risk flying without an up-to-date, photo ID again.
posted by grumblebee at 5:42 PM on December 1, 2010

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