Papers, Please: American Airlines Cracks Down On Passenger ID Policy

It wasn’t until after TWA flight 800 that the U.S. government began requiring passengers to show ID. President Clinton wanted to be able to announce something to look like he was doing something after the event, since initially there was speculation that the explosion was terrorist-related rather than an accident.

Airlines have wanted customers to show ID for a long time because they don’t want their tickets to be transferable. Part of making sure every passenger pays as much money for a seat as possible means ensuring that cheap seats can’t be resold. Otherwise the airline wouldn’t be able to sell last minute tickets for the last seat available for a premium – other passengers would just resell their tickets at a profit instead.

You can still fly without ID, however. The TSA has a procedure to let you clear security checkpoints without one. People lose their drivers licenses all the time.

If you don’t have your ID, it’s best to check in online, with your airline’s mobile app, or even at a kiosk. Agents at the ticket counter will ask to see ID.

American Airlines has a procedure for passengers to fly without ID, just like TSA does. However they’re cracking down on the ID requirement when you get a boarding pass from an agent at a gate, trying to ensure that gate agents insist on seeing IDs the way that ticket counter agents do.

I don’t actually recall a time when an American Airlines gate agent didn’t ask me for ID when issuing me a new boarding pass. However this must have been common enough for the airline to announce it as a policy.

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. Guess I assumed it was an FAA requirement (like showing ID when you go through security). Over 8 million miles since mid 80s and long time EP (now retired as lifetime platinum w 3.5 million of those miles on AA).

    While I almost always check in online and have a boarding pass so I bypass the ticket counter, occasionally I do go there and have to check bags if traveling w my golf clubs or gone for an extended time. I can’t remember a time in the last 20 years I wasn’t asked for an ID at the counter, even if I was already checked in and was just checking my bag.

  2. I used to take advantage of my same day standby options a lot a few years ago, pre-pandemic, when I was traveling a lot domestically for business. Probably 50%+ of the time, they wouldn’t check my ID.

  3. I remembered when I forgot my driver’s license at home but was allowed with my Costco membership card that had my photo. And this was just a few years after 9/11.

  4. It was after the 1996 Value Jet crash in Florida that airlines, not the “gummint”, started demanding IDs as a bunch of the victims weren’t the persons whose names were on their tickets. In other words, buy your own damn ticket, you’re costing us money.

  5. Under the “Why” section of this memo, American Airlines states their mandate for a positive identification check of a customer’s valid ID before providing a printed boarding pass because it “…can cause manifest and weight and balance discrepancies.”

    Does American Airlines record the weight of each ticketed passenger in their database to help their aircraft stay within optimal recommended weight and balance parameters?” I wonder if American Airlines uses the new FAA standards that increase the average adult passenger and carry-on bag weight to 190 pounds in the summer and 195 pounds in the winter — up from 170 pounds and 175 pounds, respectively. The numbers include an extra 10 pounds for heavier clothing in winter and five pounds for clothing in summer.

    Suppose American Airlines records the estimated weight of each passenger in their database. In that case, the airline could make extra revenue by selling passenger weight data to weight loss programs like Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem.

  6. This is racist because the political hack thought is that African Americans do not always have ID. Therefore, anything that requires an ID is racist. Voting, banking, air travel, etc. but particularly voting.

  7. Back in the day when my boys flew to Grandmas they would fly under my name to rack up the frequent flyer miles. Oh the good old days!

  8. I’m a former airline rates and tariffs agent.

    A ticket is a legal contract of carriage between the airline and the person named on the ticket. If you bought a ticket in someone else’s name and there is a crash resulting in your death, technically the airline is not obligated to pay any benefit. You, as a the purchaser, knowingly breached the Non-Transferable condition stipulated in the contract of carriage. Lawyers for your estate would have a tough time seeking compensation.

    Mandatory ID checks help identify illegal contracts. It has nothing to do with race.

    Read the fine print on your ticket.

  9. “This is racist because the political hack thought is that African Americans do not always have ID. Therefore, anything that requires an ID is racist. Voting, banking, air travel, etc. but particularly voting.”

    If the state ID process is: Fill out an application form, Provide proof of U.S. citizenship, Provide proof of state residency, Provide your Social Security Number, Have your thumbprint taken, Have your picture taken., Pay a small fee; what is the hold up for African Americans? Illiteracy and inability to fill out the form? Revoking of ID due to failure to pay court ordered child support? No Social Security number since never worked or only work off the books? Unwilling to provide a finger print due to religious reasons? No ability to pay small fee? Exactly what is the “racist” hold up?

    I can understand that we all do not need driver’s licenses, but I have had to have ID since I began working paper routes at age 12. I would really be interested is hearing from some Democrats as to why a request for ID is inherently racist when it is not like it is some Democrat imposed poll tax of old when you Democrats were trying to disenfranchise black voters..

  10. Showing ID to run a paper route as a 12-year-old? Sounds like you lived in an increasingly fascist state or were running a paper route for some whacks.

    Showing ID to work a paper route wasn’t a requirement when I was a 12-year-old.

  11. Oh look.. the trolls have been triggered because someone said ID.

    Poor, poor trolls.

  12. @ AlohaDaveKennedy

    The request for ID may not be racist but the barriers erected to obtain the ID may be racist. And not for the snarky reasons you state.

    In 2011 Alabama passed a law requiring an ID to vote in person, starting in 2015. Sounds reasonable, right?

    Coincidentally in 2015, Alabama closed all the drivers license offices in counties where blacks made up more than 75% of registered voters. Budget reasons were cited but does this sound reasonable or perhaps a bit racist?

  13. Does anyone moderate these boneheaded racist ID posts? Time for moderator to get on the ball.

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