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. Really cool trick!! Too bad the UK has other laws, and don’t have the same transport organization. I wouldn’t be worried about flying this way — I won’t get arrested since everything will be checked :)



  2. I was skeptical about the clear pass system and then used it a couple of times which honestly saved me an hour or more each time by using it. It is a shame that you have to pay extra to “cut” a line, but if you travel a lot and have a few bucks to spend on convenience, this is well worth it. I have been very happy with the time I saved — let’s face it, time is money. I am spreading the word to fellow business travelers and getting them and me the extra month bonus. Good luck!


  3. Hey I know its been long since the last comment but I want to know I am 17 years old flying by myself and I only have an school I.D I do not have anything else with me do you know if I can fly or do I have to go through the extra checking?? Please answer me


  4. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for all the tips. I’m a great fan.

    I fly back and forth between Vietnam and the US every year (in fact, my next trip is next Tuesday) and the line is horrendous. There are at least three lines I have to make, one in JFK, one in Anchorage, one in Taiwan. I wonder if your tip will work for international flights laying over in another country.

    Thanks, I appreciate it very much.



  5. Yo Tim! This actually worked for me. I lost my ID on a trip from San Fran back home Washington, DC. Luckily, I had my credit card so I could print my boarding pass (I also had my boarding passes from DC to SF). When I got to security, they took me to the front of the line to go through x-ray and I got through in no time.

    I write more my experience here:


  6. tim wat about a school id? im a high school student and i have lost my license and other papers all i have right now is my school id…and i need to fly for spring break which is coming up reallyy soon. do you think i wont have any problems using the school id??
    and by the way i love the book 4 hour work week!!! its the best book ever.

    regards, Denis.


  7. Denis!! I had the same question a couple of months ago! I had already used my student I.D before but I flew with an adult! But this past summer I flew by my self from atlanta to miami and I only used my student I.D and I had no problem! Though on the way back the tsa lady did checked my ID more than the one in miami! But yea u could! Plus u really don’t need an ID if ur 17 or younger!


  8. is it possible to get through with ur parent showin their ID or wat bcuz i had my Id taken couple days before my school ended by my mth teacher.


  9. I bet you could just request extra screening and you would get your own lane whether you had ID or not. That way you can keep your license on you.

    I spent the last 7 flights in the SSS line cause I got my tickets late, and my airline automatically tags you if you get them late. It is always kinda fun to me. Mostly to see them keep a straight face as my diabetic supplies go through, haha.


  10. I just flew after losing my license only, went to TSA and right there in line they looked at all my credits cards including a student ID with a picture, and let me through quickly – took about 2 minutes.


    • What do you think my chances are of getting on a flight from Houston to Orlando? I’m Irish with an expired Irish passport in my posession- it expired August this year. I also have a photo ID British drivers license . I have a photocopy of my current Irish passport (which is right now in the posession of FED EX). I also have a temporary print out of my new Texas drivers license (the actual license is still in the post!). I’m very anxious because my sister is flying all the way from the UK to join me for a holiday in Orlando- I would be devastated if I couldn’t go!


  11. You guys have to stop being so surprised at your own rights.
    1) We have to remember that we’re the one’s funding all of this.
    2) You have the right to travel without being identified.
    3) Stop thinking you’re under threat by anyone.
    4) If someone really planned on doing anything what would stop them frm having ID?
    5) Enjoy your liberties and take advantage of them profusely before we’re cattle.


  12. hey Tim,

    okay, it’s 2013. Are these rules still applicable? Has anything changex?
    My dad just died on Monday.

    My brother has no license currently and no picture Id that I know of.
    he needs to fly out of Salt Lake City for in a few days for the funeral in NY – hop another flight to Pennsylvania the next day for the burial and then back to SLC.

    he’s got a colostomy bag and has special medical needs. A 62 hr train bus ride is out of the question.
    Any advice?