I recently found out that losing or forgetting your driver's license before a flight is not all that unusual. And there are ways to pass through TSA airport security without your ID. I found out the hard way.
I was packing for my short trip to Phoenix to look at active retirement communities. I checked and double-checked as I packed so I wouldn’t forget anything. That had been happening lately with the quick sale of my home in one state and the rush to find my dream home in the west valley of Phoenix, Arizona equally as quickly.
When I arrived at the airport in Portland I had everything carefully packed in a small carry-on and a shopping bag emblazoned with the Arizona state flag.
Since I have TSA Pre-Check, I breezed through security and boarded the airplane. The beautiful flight south took us past the snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon and ended with a beautiful clear view of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.
Rental Car Runaround
I walked quickly to the airport exit and hopped on the shuttle to the Rental Car Center at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. As I walked up to the counter and presented my credit card and drivers license, the man was very helpful and pleasant and directed me to the place where I would pick out my car. I walked around a little silver SUV and, as instructed, checked for any dings or scratches, marking them down on the form. I slid into the seat, enjoying that new car smell, and then took a few minutes (well quite a few minutes) to figure out this newfangled car where everything was done by pushbutton without putting the key in the ignition. Once I finally figured out how to start the car, I drove up to the exit booth where a woman took my driver's license, checklist, and rental agreement. She got on her computer and input the car, looked at me, and said “there’s something wrong with this car’s plates. Do a U-turn and go pick out another car.”
Well, I was flustered but did as she asked and chose another car, this one with a keyed ignition. Soon I was on my way to the exit booth again but this time I was directed to a different exit booth. I flashed my paperwork and told the woman this was my second time around. She smiled and took my “ding and scratch checklist” and waved to me on. I threw everything in the glove compartment and took off on I-10 West.
House Hunting Success
Score! I was on my way and surprisingly there wasn’t very much traffic. I met my realtor at her office and we proceeded to spend the entire afternoon looking at marvelous houses. Fortunately, she was driving so I could look at houses and think about my eventual relocation.
The sun was getting lower on the horizon when we drove out through the desert to the last house on our list and turned into the beautifully landscaped entrance to Sun City Festival. The house we saw was perfect! During the drive back to the real estate office, I made the decision to make an offer on the home.
Missing Drivers License
While my realtor wrote up the offer she suggested I go to the motel, check in, and take a break—I hadn’t had a bite to eat since breakfast, either. That was a good plan. I was tired.
So I walked into the Windmill Inn office and proceeded to pull out my credit card and driver's license. Oh my God! The driver's license wasn’t in my wallet. I figured I must’ve just thrown it in the bottom of my purse since I was so flustered when I had to pick out a second rental car. I ended up emptying out my purse, my wallet, and my Arizona flag bag right there in the office while the very kind and patient receptionist looked on. No driver's license to be found!
I asked the receptionist if she could accept a photo of the driver's license since I happened to have one on my phone. Fortunately, she said yes so I spent another five minutes looking through all my pictures and finally found the photo. She checked me in. By then I was totally exhausted. I went to my clean and well air-conditioned room, plopped down, and opened a bottle of water. I think I was getting dehydrated by that point.
Planning for the Return Trip
So here’s where the story really starts. I was all checked in and we put together the offer for the home that I had fallen in love with and for the next several days the purchasing process ensued and the offer was accepted. I thought about what I might do before my plane flight back to Portland. I knew I had a passport I could use as an identification, but that was at home. I barely had time to ask a friend to go over and get it from my house and ship it to me overnight before I was to leave so I thought there must be another way.
So I Googled “how to get through TSA security without a driver's license.” Lo and behold, there were several articles that addressed my exact dilemma. I reviewed one of them and it told me I could even use my Costco card as a form of identification. Well, I was slightly skeptical, to say the least, and decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth. I searched for the same information on the TSA website and found their page on identification where they listed the various types of identification they might consider—things like a military ID card, passport, etc. Nowhere did it mention a Costco card! But my eyes rested on this statement: “In coordination with its DHS counterparts, TSA has identified acceptable alternate identification for use in special circumstances at the checkpoint.”
Well, I certainly had “special circumstances!” I read further. “In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly.” The official page indicated that I must provide evidence of my name and address and submit to a search including a thorough pat down. But it didn’t tell me exactly how I was to prove who I was. I then spied a link for “Customer Service” on the TSA page—(866) 289-9673—and they were available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET weekdays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends and holidays.
I was surprised when I made the phone call and a real person answered. He was very understanding and went through a list of things that I might consider bringing for identification that included:
- Credit cards (ideally with my photo)
- Checkbook with my name and address
- Utility bills with my name and address
- Library Card
- Rental car agreement
- (he had more ideas!)
He also told me to expect a thorough search and pat down and to come to the airport two hours early. He warmly added that he had spent most of his day answering questions about lost IDs so I wasn’t alone.
Well, I had both the contract for the sale of my home in Washington and the offer we were making on the new house with my name and address on it and it also included my signature. I had my checkbook, credit cards, photo of my driver's license, and, just in case, my Costco card with a grainy picture of me with shorter hair. I felt so much better after talking to the TSA customer service agent.
Return Flight and the TSA Experience
At some point, I gave up trying to get through the multitude of prompts in calling Thrifty Rent-A-Car lost and found. So I relaxed and, thrilled that my offer for the new home was accepted, got up very, very early to go to the airport for my return flight.
You see, the TSA agent on the phone had told me that there was no guarantee that these items that we had reviewed would be accepted. And he suggested that I go several hours earlier because I would be totally screened, patted down, and that would take time.
Well, to be truthful I didn’t sleep much that night and was awake at 2 a.m. My flight didn’t take off until 10 but by 5 a.m., I had gathered all my possible modes of identification put them in my Arizona flag bag, and headed for the airport watching the beautiful desert sunrise as I drove.
I returned my rental car and took the shuttle to the terminal to embarrassingly face the agents at the TSA checkpoint. I was thrilled when I saw that there was no line either in pre-check or in the regular screening line. I was pretty happy that I had TSA pre-check because I thought that would give me an extra edge.
OK, so there they were—two snappily-dressed uniformed TSA agents looking at me—I was the only one in line. I said to the first one “I’m going to need extra screening because I lost my driver's license.” At that point, although I had jokingly told my realtor friend that I was going to overwhelm the TSA agents with tons of papers and identification, I decided to be a little more restrained and asked them what would be helpful. I told them I had a checkbook, Costco card, and credit cards. The TSA agent brightened up when I said I had a Costco card so I pulled that right out. He also was very interested in my checkbook and looked at my address. He took my checkbook, my Costco card, and my Alaska Airlines credit card and held them at his podium.
He motioned for me to move to an area, kind of a box formed by the portable line dividers, where I could stand as other people passed through the line. One of the agents radioed for a “female plus one” and I knew they were asking for a female TSA agent because I needed to be patted down. I expected that. No female TSA agent appeared so I stood there for about 10 more minutes and then they explained to me that they had to wait until after the change-of-shift briefing before more agents would be available.
I appreciated the information and their kindness as I stood there in my “little box” while passengers and staff walked by me probably wondering if I was some sort of terrorist or criminal. After 25 minutes of standing in the box, I saw a female agent approach. The senior TSA agent asked me to come with him as he removed barriers taking me to the head of the line and over to a body screening machine. At that point, the female TSA agent took over and I went through the body screening machine holding my arms up as instructed. She motioned for me to take my small piece of luggage and bag over to the screening table where she asked if I wanted privacy for the pat-down. I said no, and she did a very thorough and professional job of patting me down and then released me to the male TSA agent who said he was going to be looking through all my luggage. Fortunately, I had packed my dirty clothes in a separate plastic bag because I knew they were going to go through everything.
The agent did swab tests of all surfaces of my luggage looking for, I imagine, explosive residue. He searched everything including inside bottles of makeup, went through my purse, and my Arizona flag bag. After the lengthy process, he nodded to me and said, “you’re good to go.”
I was relieved and thanked him. They gave me my boarding pass, checkbook, Costco card, and credit card back and I walked, a free woman, to my gate.
If You Forget or Lose Your ID
So here’s what you do if you’re ticketed on a domestic flight and have somehow lost or forgotten your drivers' license.
- Try to find your driver's license.
- Call the TSA at (866) 289-9673 and review your situation with them. They will give you tons of hints on what to bring, when to go, and what to expect.
- Review the TSA website for additional instructions.
- Go several hours early to get in line for screening and expect to wait.
- Be respectful and do what you’re told. This will not be a time to ask for special consideration or to be pushy and frustrated.
- Know that TSA airport security rules will change and you may, or may not, be allowed through without your ID.
For more tips for travelers, see these articles by Wander writers.