Ask The Consumerists: Can I Fly With No ID?

Reader Dan asks:

I have a friend that moved to NYC a little while ago from Iowa. She hadn’t switched to a NYS Photo ID yet, as she isn’t sure if this is going to be a permanent move, so she has been using her Iowa State Photo ID (non-Driver’s License, which is important as you’ll see) around town.

Yesterday morning, she left her wallet in a taxi in midtown, and didn’t realize until it was too late to get the medallion number. In her wallet was her Iowa ID, a college photo ID, and her social security card (yes, she knows it’s not a good idea to carry it on her at all times, especially now).

So basically she is without ID right now. We’re supposed to be flying out of town next Wednesday, but obviously she won’t be able to board a plane without ID. The lovely folks at the Iowa Department of Transportation – Motor Vehicle Divisionhave informed her that they cannot issue a replacement ID for non-Driver’s Licenses without her going to Iowa, in person, to request one. Were it a Driver’s License, they’d send out a temporary one until a new Photo Driver’s License was completed — but for non-Driver’s License, State Issued IDs they have no method for providing replacements. At all.

She does have a filed police report, as well as a Birth Certificate. Will she be able to fly? What more can she do to try to get some sort of valid ID?

Our answer inside.

Well Dan, the good news is that she’ll probably be able to fly. The bad news is that we can’t definitively say that she will be able to board a plane without ID because the laws regarding IDs and planes are secret. Yes, these laws are considered “SSI” or Sensitive Security Information. A civil liberty activist recently petitioned the Supreme Court to disclose the law, but his petition was denied.

So, the answer is we don’t know if you’re legally required to show ID or not, but we do know that people have, in the past, been allowed to board planes without showing ID. To board a plane without ID, you should explain your situation to the TSA agent. Bring any documentation you have, and expect to go through secondary screening.

As for your question about how your friend can go about getting her ID back, this is going to get a little complicated.

Unless she is willing to go back to Iowa, here is the best way we found for her to get her ID mess sorted out:

1) She can use her birth certificate, credit cards, library cards, atm cards, and a witness to apply in person for a US Passport OR Ask her college to send her a new student ID. To get a passport without showing photo ID, the witness will need to bring ID, fill out a form DS-71 in the presence of a passport agent, have known her at least 2 years, and be a US citizen.

2) Once she has a new student ID and/or a passport, she can apply for a new Social Security Card. She will need her birth certificate and either the passport or the student ID.

3) Once she has a social security card, she can apply for a New York State ID Card.

The moral of this story is not to carry your social security card. In addition to dealing with this mess, your friend is going to want to check out the FTC’s ID Theft page, as well as contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to see what programs Iowa has in place. We’d also suggest complaining about their lack of a replacement program for ID cards. Good luck, and be sure to say “Hi” to the TSA for us.

If she’s still feeling nervous about flying without ID, NPR has a helpful story she can listen to. Heck, some people refuse to show ID on principle!—MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Ben Tubby)