How to get on a flight when you lost your ID

17 November 2023
How to get on a flight when you lost your ID

Your stomach drops, your scalp itches, your palms sweat, and normal breathing stops. Oh crap! You’ve lost your ID and you have to get on a flight.

This happened to my brother recently on a family trip. He was trying to return home and when he arrived at the airport, he couldn’t find his passport! It was tucked safely into the zippered pocket of his coat … that he left behind … at his sister’s house … two hours away. 

When you lose your primary identification, or it’s stolen from you, and you have an upcoming flight, most travelers panic. In some cases, depending on when and where you’re flying, panic is all you can do―for the first few minutes, that is.

If your flight is international, you have to have a passport. No way around it. But for flights within the US, you’ve got some options.

Here’s what to do when you lose your ID so you can still fly.

If you have a couple of days before your flight

If you have a couple of days before your flight, you just might have some options and not know it. One option is to have a family member or friend overnight the wallet or passport you left behind to you.

If your wallet is irretrievably lost, look for alternative forms of identification. When flying domestically, several forms of ID are accepted, including:

  • Passport (yes, even for a domestic flight)
  • Passport card (a perfectly good alternative to a driver’s license)
  • A trusted traveler card such as Global Entry
  • A Defense Department ID
  • Foreign passport (if that applies)
  • Veteran Health Identification card
  • Merchant Mariner credentials

If you don’t have any of the standard accepted IDs, you can try two forms of ID showing your name and identifying information like photo, address, phone number, or Social Security number. 

For example, think about a combination of:

  • A work or student ID, if it has your picture, and a social security card, if you have it, or
  • A receipt with your address, like a rental car reservation, and a prescription bottle with your name.

Seriously, you’re going to have to get creative here.

If there’s no time before your flight

If you can’t find or gather any acceptable alternate forms of ID, a TSA employee can give you a form to fill out called TSA Form 415, also known as a Certification of Identity form. 

The form requires your full name, address, signature, and date.

The TSA staff can use that to verify your identity. It may take some time, so get to the airport very early.

If the TSA staff can verify your identity using alternate IDs and/or Form 415, you will be allowed to pass through security. Expect to receive a pat-down and a more thorough check of your property, according to the TSA. 

And whatever you do, once you get through security, stay on that side until you reach your destination!

Any other options for travelers who lost their ID?

Recently, there have been some changes, in some US states, that allow you to use digital IDs stored on Apple devices such as iPhones or Apple Watch using the Apple Wallet app. 

Those US states are (currently):

  1. Arizona
  2. Colorado
  3. Maryland

At least two other states, Florida and Louisiana, have a digital ID option for driver’s license, and more states are in the process of adding digital ID options. Some states accept mobile drivers’ licenses for travelers who are also enrolled in TSA PreCheck.

Try asking the TSA agent if there is a digital ID option that might work.

What if the TSA won’t let you pass security?

If you are turned away at security, you still have options. 

Most airlines have unofficial rules (sometimes referred to as the ‘flat tire’ rule, for obvious reasons) that let you rebook on the next available flight at no extra charge. Be polite and mention the issue you’re having … you may even mention the flat tire rule to the agent when you ask to be rebooked.

That will give you extra time to find an acceptable ID and continue your journey.

What won’t work as an ID alternative?

Unfortunately, copies of your driver’s license or passport won’t work. 

That’s a bummer, because those photocopies are super helpful for replacing your passport at the embassy abroad.

Upcoming changes to the TSA’s facial recognition technology won’t help either (at least for now). That’s because the face scanners have to compare an ID to your face.

What if you need to check into a hotel or rent a car?

Even if you board the plane, you may have some trouble on the other side if you have to stay at a hotel or rent a car when you arrive.

Many properties require both a valid government-issued ID and the original credit card used to make the booking for you to check in.

Still, you have options.

Some hotel chains and property rental companies have implemented fully automated check-in processes. If you’re a member of the hotel’s loyalty program, you can check in without an ID using a confirmation number or the chain’s app. Just skip the front desk altogether.

Pro tip: If the hotel chain doesn’t have automated check-in, give the front desk a call ahead of time. Hotels are typically flexible in allowing alternative forms of ID, especially for prepaid stays.

Similarly, being a member of a rental car company’s loyalty program means your driver’s license and credit card are stored in its system, so there’s no need to show your license to anyone. If you’re a member of some programs, you already skip the rental desk and head straight to the car lot anyway.

If you have a digital license, you can legally drive the car too.

What’s the future for requiring IDs?

Many countries have learned that passports and physical ID cards are easy to damage or lose, so they’ve worked on electronic versions. Their countries are much smaller, of course, and people travel between them more often. For example, the EU is now mandating digital identity.

As usual, the US is behind the rest of the world, where many countries have already seen there’s a better way. 

In the US, of course, the individual states are the source of the most commonly used identity documents. Each state has its own infrastructure for birth records, marriage certificates, death records, and drivers’ licenses. So far, there’s no overarching mandate to increase digital identity usage as there is in Europe.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.