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Travel Tips

Can You Fly Without an ID?



March 1, 2024

3 min read

Any number of things can go awry when you’re trying to get your trip started: You realize after you’ve already left the house that you forgot to pack your toothbrush, your Uber hits traffic on the way to the airport, or once you finally get there, the security line is longer than you’ve ever seen it. 

But nothing quite stacks up to forgetting—or maybe even worse, misplacing—your driver’s license and only realizing once you’re up next to talk to the TSA agent. If you’ve been there, you know. And if you haven’t, we’re knocking on wood on your behalf. 

Before you (understandably) freak out, there may be hope. 

Can you fly without an ID?

Chances are high! According to the Transportation Security Administration, you may still be able to fly if you arrive at the airport without a proper form of identification (see their website for a full list of valid forms of ID), though the process will be different than your typical security experience. TSA recommends that you arrive at least two hours before your scheduled flight departure to give yourself enough time to complete the process.

You’ll need to go through an identity verification process, where you provide your name and address, among other personal information, to confirm your identity. If you have any other forms of identification on hand—credit cards, a paper license, a student or work ID, even prescription medication with your name on it—this can help. 

Once your identity has been verified, you’ll then go through the security checkpoint, likely with extra attention from a TSA agent; note that you may be subject to a patdown, and your carry-on may need to go through additional screening. 

Obviously, if you choose not to comply with this protocol or your identity cannot be verified, you will not be allowed to go through security. 

Checking in and checking a bag? 

If you checked in for your flight online and are only bringing a carry-on with you, you can scoot through the front door to security and hope that TSA doesn’t give you a hard time. However, if you’ve left check-in until the day of, or need to check your bag at the airport, you might run into some other trouble, this time with the airline, if you don’t have your ID. 

Typically, airlines require you to present a government-issued form of ID when checking in and checking your bag. Every airline is different, so there is no guarantee that you’ll have success, but you can kindly explain your situation to the airline agent and see if you can present other forms of identification to verify your identity, like with TSA. 

If that doesn’t work, you may be able to employ the flat-tire policy. 

Flat-tire policy 

Airlines’ flat-tire policies are admittedly difficult to track down in writing, though there seems to be a general consensus within air-travel chat rooms that airlines try their best to rebook you on the next possible flight (at no additional charge) if you miss your original flight due to unforeseen circumstances

Named after the unfortunate circumstance of getting a flat tire on your way to the airport, the policy often extends to other situations, like if you forgot your ID or showed up at the wrong airport (looking at our NYC friends). 

There tends to be a time frame within which you must arrive at the airport after your scheduled departure time if you plan to employ the flat-tire policy. For instance: 

  • American Airlines: Within 2 hours of scheduled departure
  • Delta Air Lines: Within 1 hour of scheduled departure
  • United Airlines: Within 30 minutes of scheduled departure

Head to the airline ticket counter and explain your situation. Agents typically handle these on a case-by-case basis, so it’s best to remain calm, kind, and helpful in these instances if you want to improve your chances of making it to the next step—security. 

Digital IDs 

For travelers in a select few states—like Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, and Georgia—you’re in luck. TSA is testing out processes where travelers can seamlessly navigate TSA with a digital ID (no physical ID needed). 

No, a photo of your ID doesn’t count. It must be loaded into your Apple WalletGoogle Wallet, or a TSA-approved digital ID app in order to be eligible. Other states are working to implement these technologies, but in the meantime, if you’re from one of these states, go ahead and get your ID loaded onto your mobile device so you have a backup plan if you do forget your physical ID. (You should still bring your physical ID with you if you have it though.)

>> See the full list of participating programs and airports here

Flying internationally? 

If you’re flying internationally and turn up to the airport without an ID, chances are extremely low that you will make it on the plane. In fact, we’d advise against it. You’d have a difficult time in your destination without an ID (especially if you need a visa or have hotel, car, or other reservations), and it could make your life very difficult getting back to the states. 

If you’re already in another country and lost your ID, you should contact the US Embassy in your destination immediately to work out an alternative form of identification to get you back into the country. 

>> In another country and need to find a US Embassy? Here’s the full list of US embassies around the world, including addresses and phone numbers. 

Published March 1, 2024

Last updated March 1, 2024

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