How Many People Fly Every Day In The U.S. Without Valid ID

For years TSA has been warning that if you don’t get a ‘REAL ID’-compliant drivers license you won’t be able to fly and I’ve explained that isn’t true because you can fly without ID, in fact people do it all the time.

The requirement of an ID to fly began as a ‘do something’ policy after the explosion of TWA flight 800. President Clinton demanded to be able to immediately announce new airline security measures, and told his National Security Council team to come up with some. Yet to this day around 700,000 people per year fly without showing valid ID.

You can skip showing an ID altogether if you have CLEAR and are flying from a terminal where that service is offered. Your eyes or fingerprints are your ID instead. But if you don’t have ID, perhaps you’ve lost it or forgotten it, you can still fly. TSA has procedures for that,

  • If you don’t have an ID they accept at the checkpoint, you can show two forms of ‘unacceptable’ ID

  • If you don’t have any ID, they will ask you challenge questions to establish your identity. They put in a call to their ID Verification Center and ask you the sort of questions that a bank might ask when you set up an account, such as places you’ve lived in the past.

About 2000 people a day fly without any ID, or using ‘unacceptable’ IDs and the ID Verification Center takes around 300-400 calls per day with the balance using two forms of ‘invalid’ IDs.

Early in the pandemic I wrote that Covid-19 would be an excuse to kick the REAL-ID can down the road, the way electoral necessity had been in the past. That’s exactly what happened. TSA says it plans to start requiring REAL ID-compliant identification for access to airport security checkpoints in May 2023. But there’s no indication they’ll stop alternative forms of identifying passengers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. 2 guys at my bachelor party lost their IDs. One dude was short, dark haired and of English descent. He was taken to get verified and asked authentication questions. The other dude was tall, blonde and a news reporter. The TSA agent just waived him thru and said “you’re cool.” Nothing asked.

  2. A friend of mine forgot her ID but the TSA accepted her Costco card, and the photos on those cards certainly don’t look like the bearer, or anyone else.

  3. And then the other thing with matching tickets and people is that they can’t resell them. But in any society where people will sing about being “brave and free” and then willingly subject themselves to body scanners you can’t expect clear thinking about this kind of abuse. It’s a sad commentary that Americans will accept an “internal passport” situation, but it is not surprising. Fear makes people act stupidly and when there is an opening bureaucrats are always happy to expand their powers.

  4. I lost my ID while traveling in Miami with my daughter in 2018. I was required to physically show 2 things with my name on it. My stored ID pic with my government employer was not acceptable. I was subject to enhanced security, including my bag being emptied and swabbed. I was given extra physical security, including my hands swabbed. My daughter was exempt because she was a minor. I was told if another adult was on my reservation, they would be subjected to same bag and body search. For reference, I am a 5’2 white woman who works in public safety. I have secret service and homeland security clearances due to my job.

  5. Except if you enter the country illegally. Many friends and ex-employees recently crossed the southern border, without passports or any form of ID, and they flown to their destinations with the USCIS parole document (far from being REAL-ID compliant). I can personally attest they are good people and gave their real information. But of course the worst of Venezuela’s Chavistas and criminals (you can use those adjectives interchangeably anyway) are freely crossing too, in huge numbers!. And you can be sure they don’t give any real information. Welcome to Democrat’s America!.

  6. TSA recently refused to accept my expired Illinois drivers license at Ohare (Illinois extended the expired license till April, 2022). I showed them the website but they refused saying TSA follows federal and not state laws. Luckily I had my passport with me. I believe they are wrong, but who am I to argue with TSA.

  7. Is TSA still enforcing the 3-1-1 liquid rule? I only fly about twice a year, and I always comply. A friend who flys about every 2 months insists he ignores that and puts full-size toothpaste etc in his carryon. I asked why not and he said he always forgets (not a surprise with him) and never gets stopped or more closely inspected.

    Am I the idiot?

  8. Tyrp in second bullet point:
    “If you don’t have any ID, they will ask you challenge questions to establish your *identify.”

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