How to Fly Without ID and Skip Lines


Lose the wallet to enter the fast lane? Strange but true. (Photo: Dam)

In the world of orange alerts and terrorism, how do you fly without ID? Is it even possible?

I learned last week that–not only is it possible–it’s faster.

My wallet was stolen at ETech in San Diego 3 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave for Austin, TX. Panic set in, as I had to be on a panel the following afternoon, but I learned of a few work-arounds.

Here’s what I did, first from the hotel:

1. I took the clever Brady Forrest‘s advice and printed out a little-known (outside of techies) letter from the TSA, written to Senator John Warner, that outlines protocol for flying without ID. If the airport check-in staff or security stop you, this letter and requesting a supervisor is often enough to get you onboard.


2. I used my flight number and name to print out my boarding passes from the hotel kiosk. I wouldn’t be able to use them ultimately, but it would be helpful to prove identify.

3. I borrowed $100 from two friends for taxis, etc., and promised to immediately reimburse them through PayPal, which I could use as currency in place of my stolen credit cards and cash.

At the airport:

1. Told them very casually “Oh, by the way, I’m flying without ID today because my wallet was stolen.” They gave their condolences and marked my boarding pass for additional screening with “SSS” in bright red block letters. I checked one bag and never had to show the TSA letter.

2. Because you are now a bigger security risk, they put you in your own line! The key is to put as much in checked luggage as possible, as they will swab everything in your carry-on for explosive residue and do a quick pat down.

3. After clearing security in record time, I called the San Diego harbor police using 1-800-GOOG-411 on my cell to file a police report with an officer at the airport, which took about 10 minutes.

The officer then called up my CA driver’s license number and put it on a temporary ID card that I could use to drive (and also get served alcohol when used in combination with an old student picture ID from Berlin). Filing the police report is also important for filing claims with banks, credit cards, etc. to be reimbursed for any fraudulent charges.

I had the student ID in a second wallet where I put cards, memberships, etc. that I use infrequently, so I don’t clog up my ultra-slim wallet. This back-up wallet is stored in my backpack.

4. Used wi-fi at the terminal to cancel my cards and get replacements overnighted to a friend’s place in Austin.

The End Result — Faster without ID!

I cleared security in 5 minutes, where it took others AHEAD of me in line with ID 15-20 minutes.

I was upset that that my FlyClear biometric card had been stolen, expecting to be delayed, but perhaps the cheaper solution and equally effective time saver is to “lose” your license, or simply keep it in the wallet and tell them you’re traveling without ID.

I’ll be testing this on my return trip as well.

Just another reminder to question what you “have to” do. Oftentimes the forbidden opposite is the best solution.

Posted on: March 13, 2008.

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69 comments on “How to Fly Without ID and Skip Lines

  1. Yes, this works!

    My ID expired, which was not caught on the flight TO but was caught on the flight BACK. They tagged me and my 2 year old daughter for additional screening.

    It was great. With a 2 year old, you can imagine that going through security is a nightmare (even though we fly often enough, I have it down pretty well). They took us aside and even talked to my daughter about what they were doing, how it would not hurt her Dora doll, etc.

    Perhaps not exactly kosher, but a great back-up plan if there is a 2 hour wait and you have to make your flight.

    ~ Elizabeth


  2. Nice! On my trip to Austin (only the second time I’ve flown since 9/11), I breezed through security in both SFO and Austin — there was no line at all on either end, and the TSA officials were friendly and upbeat. In fact,with no line, I didn’t even have time to remove my shoes and belt, get my laptop out, etc. I had to do all that while letting people go past me right on through.

    So, in short, I’m sure on my trip traveling without ID could only have slowed me down. But I appreciate your continual experimentation and reporting back. I love being better prepared, informed and more alert than those around me.

    Here’s a Tip (perhaps already covered): Flying Southwest, you can usually get the key benefit of a much more expensive Business fare (i.e., an early boarding number) by checking in online exactly 24 hours before your flight. I was able to check in at 8:30:01 a.m., Wednesday for my 8:30 a.m. Thursday flight, and got position A20 — 20th person aboard after special-needs pre-boarders. On the way back, I forgot and ended up with B32, which was at the front of the third (of 6, I think) group aboard.


  3. I used to love flying without an ID simply for getting through line faster. Many airports are catching on now, though and check your ID as close towards the front of the line as possible now. Before it was possible to run through because they checked IDs at the end of the line and put you in the “Special Line”.

    Many airports (cough cough SFO) would require you to have the airline agree to having no ID first so make sure you tell the airline when getting your ticket as well.

    This is a total ninja move and completely legal (look into the supreme court decision). There’s no real security in checking IDs anyway if you think about it. As recent hacks have shown, people on the TSA no-fly list can buy a ticket under someone else’s name, do the print boarding pass at home, photoshop the name to their real name, print the ticket and go through security with their real ID.


  4. Wow – I can’t even buy a ticket at my local Amtrak station without a valid ID, which I discovered after I lost my wallet this week and was stranded 25 miles away from my car. I should have flown across the county.

    I’ll have the keep this in mind next time I’m flying, though.


  5. Wow, I didn’t even know that was possible. I knew that the airline system was hackable, but I didn’t know it was that flexible. I suppose they have to let people through without IDs, otherwise you’d be SOL.

    The next time I’m late for a flight I’m going to arrange to have my ID stolen :-)

    For another good airline hack, check here for a good a Dumb Little Man article about how to score free airline vouchers by reserving overbooked flights.

    Thanks Tim,


  6. Hey Tim,

    it would be great if you would take a few minutes to tell us if that worked on your way home…

    It is NEVER fun to stay in those lines..



  7. My condolences on the wallet and congrats on proving yet again rules are arbitrary. Very well done, thank goodness for techie info, All Hale Geeks!! I am sure having a cool head and not a total freak out at the airport helps to calm the powers that be.
    I hope you had a good time in your travels. I am thinking that joining the mile high club without ID is dangerous, could Mr. Ferriss pull that off? That would be an interesting experiment aye! ;)



  8. Just thought I’d throw out the solution that many already considered but isn’t always possible (and obviously wasn’t an an option since you weren’t leaving from home but had previously flown domestic)–I keep my wallet and passport separate. If you do ever find yourself sans wallet while you’re still at home or while traveling abroad, at least the other form of identification is a temporary alternative while things get sorted out.


  9. Hi All,

    Thanks for the excellent comments and suggestions.

    A few asked if I like the FlyClear card. I LOVE IT. Worth 10x the price. See the link to my article on this in the post. It’s paid for itself many, many times over.



  10. Does this only work in the U.S.? I live in Berlin, fly several times a weekend inside of Europe and would love to play this card sometimes!


  11. Actually you don’t even need to lose your ID to do this. I go by middle name. I have several credit cards using my middle name, etc… . My wife accidentally bought our last set of tickets and put my middle name on the ticket which doesn’t match my official drivers license. So I had to go through the “extra” screening with bomb swabbing. I got through it all ten minutes faster than my wife and didn’t have to stand in any line as there was no one else going through extra screening. I also got a chair to put back on my shoes. On top of that, the guys doing the in depth screenings are a lot nicer. So if you want to try this without lying about losing your license just reverse your first and middle name on your ticket.


  12. Hey Tim,

    One of the fellow lock-picking “students” from ETech. Sorry to hear about all this – I wondered what happened to you at the end there – but glad that you were still able to get out to Austin safe and sound and without too much hassle. I’ll be interested to hear how well this works on the return trip – if it’s just San Diego or it varies by airport.

    Thanks for the great talk at ETech also. I’ve already cut my e-mail and RSS consumption in half, and have intentionally disabled push e-mail on my crackberry as an experiment in personal sanity. So far it’s working ;)


    Thanks for the comment, Sean! Congrats as well for taming the e-mail beast — well done, sir :)



  13. I guess I am one of the few here who basically refuses to fly. I used to fly all the time, but since the stupid Security Theater Antics that have been put in place to do nothing but inconvenience travelers, and lull them into “feeling” they are secure, I’ve flown exactly….once…when attending a niece’s graduation. Even then, I’d rather have driven, but it was 2500 miles away.

    And, guess what? I don’t miss it at all. Flying domestically now seems to be the US equivalent of traveling the subway in Tokyo during rush hour. Been there. Did that. Never again.



  14. I think you should rethink the morality of considering or advocating scamming the system this way. Those safeguards are put into place for a reason – as a backup measure for people who have legitimately lost their id, as you did this time. If a service is abused, it may be taken away. Also, it probably puts a strain on the system as security has to take extra effort on your checked bags and a special lane has to be set aside to check you.

    Analogously, the welfare system is in place to help people who really need it, but is often abused by people who want free money.

    Otherwise, thanks for providing us with a good guide to not panicking when we lose our ID right before flying.