Ask Cranky: What to Do When Your Photo ID is Lost

Ask Cranky

I’ve decided to start a new feature here on the blog called “Ask Cranky.” I get questions from people all the time, and I always answer directly. But a friend made me realize that these answers could be interesting to many readers out there, so here we go. Feel free to send me questions any time, and if appropriate, I’ll respond in this column. First up, we have this one:

What happens if you are traveling and you happen to lose your license and didn’t happen to bring your passport? Is there some way you can still catch your return flight?



The short answer is this . . . you’re stuck in that airport forever. Good luck.

Seriously though, I’m assuming we’re talking about a domestic flight since you don’t have your Ask Crankypassport. In that case, it’s pretty easy to travel. Up until recently, it wasn’t required that you show photo ID. Sure, they made it sound that way, but it wasn’t actually necessary.

That all changed in June when the TSA decided to require people to show photo ID every time they travel. (Forget about the fact that these rules have more holes than a Baghdad runway, as pointed out by security-god Bruce Schneier.) Now if you don’t have your ID, it makes it harder to fly, but it’s still not that hard.

The TSA does realize that people can lose their IDs and they don’t want to start a colony of stranded travelers in every airport. So, if you tell them you lost your ID, they’ll grill you with a bunch of questions to make sure you are who you say you are and they’ll probably put you through secondary screening. (Hello, latex gloves!) Then you’ll be on your way. (Here’s a long list of questions on this subject as answered by the TSA.)

There are a couple things you can do to make your life easier here.

  • Check in at home or at a kiosk – Technically, an airline shouldn’t require that they see your ID, but if you check in at the ticket counter, they’ll usually ask to see it. Just avoid the ticket counter so you don’t have to deal with that.

  • Tell the truth – If you’ve lost your ID, just tell them and you’ll have much less trouble. If you start spouting off about how you don’t want to show ID because the TSA has no authority, they’re going to flag you. And do you really want to be walking bow-legged to get your flight? I think not.

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21 comments on “Ask Cranky: What to Do When Your Photo ID is Lost

  1. A couple of years ago a Canadian relative was staying with us in a shared condo in Maui and she couldn’t find her passport the night before we were all to leave. My wife called the airline who told her to call the local police; the airline said if we filed a lost passport report with the police we could use the police report of the lost passport as ID. My wife, trying to be helpful, called the local police impersonating the Canadian. The police asked for her name and address and my wife got her relative’s Canadian address wrong by one digit. The police reply was that something was wrong with the address and name. We were stunned that the Maui County Police were so instantly hooked up to names and addresses in Canada.

  2. It is entirely possible for someone to fly without an ID. They now track you for (I believe) fifteen years afterward, but you can fly. They will ask questions that will be used to corroborate your identity against databases (cars owned, previous addresses, etc). Positive answers will get you on the plane, negative answers.. who knows?

  3. I lost my ID while on vacation in Connecticut in 2005. Before my return flight, I called US Airways for advice three times, and got different advice each time.

    Luckily, I had just lost my photo ID, not my credit cards. So I was able to show TSA security at least cards with my name on it.

    I endured extra TSA screening and extra “pat-downs”, but luckily nothing too invasive.

    Best advice: treat the ticket agent and TSA agents with respect and be polite. It goes a long way.

  4. I’ve always fancied taking the train from New York to California. Guess the only thing I need do is lose some ID, and the opportunity is presented ready-made !

  5. “Check in at home or at a kiosk” … if you don’t have ID you always need to check in with an agent … you will get a “selectee boaring pass”. Also, you will not be able to check bags with a sky-cap–they’ll send you inside to see an agent….

  6. flyfly – So if you check in at home, get your boarding pass, and go straight to security, they’re going to make you go back to the counter? That doesn’t make sense to me, but I guess a lot of what the TSA does doesn’t make much sense.

  7. In December last year I made two round trips between LHR and MAN in two weeks (how exotic), passing through security 4 times, and never once was asked for ID. The fact that I had it was neither here nor there, just goes to show how the supposedly enhanced security is a load of bunkum.

  8. I’ve scanned my passport and saved as a secure PDF (requires password to open) and emailed it to myself. Just in case.

  9. Non-Americans do not find it as easy to travel without ID. TSA doesn’t have access to the data they’d like to validate that you are who you say, and so no ID acceptable to TSA means no travel. Passports are accepted as ID, but not drivers licence or any other card issued by a (non-US) government agency.

    So if non-American, better not lose your passport inside USA unless you happen to be in a city with your embassy/consulate.

  10. I lost my Driver’s License and didn’t realize it until I checked in for before flying Southwest from Kansas City to Sacremento August 29th. I just told the truth, showed them all my other stuff, credit cards, etc. My wife was with me. I’m also 66 and look somewhat harlessw. I had to go through extra security but that was only about 5 minutes extra. Same for the return, three days later. Not much hassle at all. I was prepared for the worst and it was almost a non event. Still have not found the driver’s license however so I got another.

  11. Sadly, I have inadvertently become an “expert” on this.

    I disagree with “Check in at home or at a kiosk” … admitting the issue at the counter has generally been the fastest way. Its really up to the airline anyway whether you fly without ID or not — the TSA is just there to verify your identity matches a boarding pass.

    They usually write a circled “NO ID” on the pass, agents dont really say much of anything, and it just subjects you to selectee-like screening. one particular time, i was already a selectee, so nothing additional occurred.

    Checking in at home or the kiosk when you know you do not have identification is a red flag.

  12. I am glad to read some of this info… I had my license confiscated…All I have is a university ID with my name and my photo on it… I am going to get a state issued ID tomorrow, but it is likely that I wont recieve it before my flight date. I am going for a medical procedure out of state and have already bought my tickets as well as paid for half lf my procedure. I have been a nervous wreck that they arent going to allow me to fly. I have a certified copy of my birth certificate, and my voter rigistration card, I also have my operative orders with me proving where I am going packed with my student ID. I called TSA, and said that they would have to prove my identity before I would be allowed on. Does anyone think I will not be able to fly???

  13. If your ID is stolen or lost, you should file a police report so that you have legal proof. After getting the police report, contact the airline you have your reservation with (if you are on vacation or business)and ask them to document in your flight record that your ID was lost or stolen and show them the police report. Unfortunately, when you go to check in, they will make you a selectee (a little extra screening), unless you happened to get a new ID.
    Airlines do ask for ID at the ticket counter and the kiosks to verify that you are who you say you are. TSA asks for ID to compare against your boarding cards to make sure someone doesn’t have incorrect boarding cards.

  14. Great post. YOu make it seem so easy to share your experiences. I wish I could do as well in sharing on my blog. I just got it started and sometimes feel stuck on what to share or if it is the right thing to share. what to do?

  15. The best thing to do is always keep your valuables(wallet, passport, money) in a Fannie pack that you keep on the front of your waist. It may look goofy, but you will not lose anything.

  16. i know i’m a little late for this post but i just came across it. I have my id, but there is a bend through it. nothing major. its not over the picture or anything either. will i have any problems with it or should i go get a new one before traveling? the only reason i ask is because i was recently at a city outdoor event and a police officer told my boyfriend that he couldn’t authorize him to buy beer because his ID was also bent. His was a little worse than mine but still nothing dramatic. So, will my bent id be a problem at the airport? Thanks.

  17. Firstly you should keep your photo ID safely. Though if you lose the photo ID, you have to make an FIR and have to submit the copy of the FIR to the place from where new photo ID will be issued.

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