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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Flying Without a Photo ID


Not only are extra fees for checked bags annoying, but they nearly caused me to miss a flight.

Last Friday, while my family gulped down breakfast before leaving for a weekend trip, I dealt with a last-minute, work-related technology snafu and went through a mental travel check list. Cancel delivery of the newspapers? Yes. Stop mail? Yes. All that was left was to check in online and print out the boarding passes. I grabbed my wallet to pay the $50 in advance for two checked bags to save time at the airport.

We then piled into the minivan, dropped our dog off at the kennel and headed to the airport, congratulating ourselves that, for once, we were on schedule.

Our self-satisfaction - or at least, mine - evaporated, though, when we arrived at the airport, I opened my purse and discovered that my wallet was missing. I quickly realized that after using my credit card to pay for the checked bags, I had left my wallet on my desk. At home. With my driver's license (read: photo identification) in it.

There wasn't time to go home and get my wallet. I would have missed the flight. And my family didn't want to go ahead without me. So we approached an agent at the security checkpoint, handed him our boarding passes and explained the situation.

He wasn't amused. (Are security agents, ever?) But, after asking my husband and children to step aside, he summoned a colleague - some sort of “no photo identification” specialist - to deal with me.

According to the Transportation Security Administration's Web site, a federal- or state-issued photo identification is required to fly. But, the site adds: “We understand passengers occasion ally arrive at the airport without an ID due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won't be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone's identity, like using publicly available databases.”

The special T.S.A. agent had me sign a form, allowing the agency to verify my identity. He asked me if I had any other form of identification (I didn't), or if my husband had anything in his wallet that had my name on it. (Again, no.) I did have a checkbook, bearing checks that had both my name and my husband's, so I handed that over for him to examine. Then, he called someone else on his phone, and asked me some questions - things like my previous addresses and my date of birth. It reminded me of the online verification process you go through when opening a bank account or obtaining your credit report.

Apparently I answered sat isfactorily, because the agent was finally given a number that he jotted on my boarding pass, before waving me on to be screened. The process took about 15 to 20 minutes. I asked if I could have some sort of documentation of the screening process for my return flight, but he shook his head. “Make sure you get to the airport early,” he advised, in case the screening process took longer on the trip home. (It didn't. The process was much the same, although I was asked slightly different versions of the screening questions, and had my hands swabbed before being sent on my way.)

We made our outgoing flight with a few minutes to spare, but the whole process was very stressful. I know that it's ultimately my fault that I left my wallet behind in the rush to get out of the house. But I can't help but blame the airline's extra baggage fees. If I hadn't had to grab my credit card from wallet to pay for them, my wallet wouldn't have been out of my purse in the first place.

Have you ever flown without your photo identification? What happened?