Things You Should Memorize When Flying Without Identification

You may be familiar with the TSA’s new rules that went into effect June 21st regarding travelers who try to fly without identification. These travelers are essentially made part of a mini game show where they are the subject of all the questions. Your prize, if you answer correctly, is that you are allowed to board your flight. If you need to travel without ID, Wired magazine has assembled some items which if committed to memory, might help you get through the (game show) process more easily.

“Now, those who left their license at home or had it stolen have to answer a series of questions relayed to the screener by employees in TSA’s operations center in Virginia, where employees have access to databases of public records, including those compiled by data giant Lexis Nexis,” according to Wired.

If you have to fly without identification, memorize any old addresses, the date of your wedding anniversary and your children’s addresses. The correct answer to questions like these may determine whether TSA lets you on your flight. Of course, you’d better hope that the answers that the TSA has are correct also.

One traveler who had her tax returns with her, says that TSA agents actually looked them over. TSA spokesman Christopher White said, “If a passenger has any type of documents, they can present them to assist in verifying identification. If she presented the officer with her tax return, we don’t care how much money she makes–we just care about her identity.”

We have already spoken to one reader who says that they were asked about their political party affiliation. Wired says,

The process of comparing answers to public records already caused a flare-up after one traveler was asked whether he was registered as a Democrat or a Republican, which TSA spokesman Christopher White called a “day one mistake,” where a TSA employee looked at the available public records and asked a question off of the information in the files compiled by Lexis Nexis and others.

Are we to infer that this question is no longer being asked? Well, at least the answer isn’t difficult to memorize. Certainly, some Consumerists have been through this process by now. What questions were you asked that weren’t mentioned in this article?

Flying Without ID? Know What’s in Your Files [Wired]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ZekeSulastin says:

    Sounds like the “Mother’s Maiden Name” thing from website password recovery on steroids.

    Too bad pretty much any question they ask can be found by a sufficiently determined criminal. The illusion of security is better than trying to come up with the real thing, although I guess it’s somewhat good for people who had their wallet picked and didn’t have a backup ID handy.

    (I’m not saying get rid of flight security altogether, but surely there’s a better way of going about identification … too bad most of them are crackable/OMGPRIVACY …)

  2. I see a lot of tattoo parlors getting people coming in for tattoos of some of this information.

  3. Grabraham says:

    If someone were to want to fly on an airplane as me, I think it would be much more efficient to make a fake license than to dig up and memorize all of my personal info. I do not see this as an issue. The fact that I can go into Photoshop and change the name on my boarding pass and hand the forged boarding pass to the only person who is matching the name on the license to the name on the boarding pass is more of a risk :D

  4. harlock_JDS says:

    Why would someone fly without an ID but with their tax returns?

  5. I’m sure they also compare it to the name on the screen when they check you in

  6. Karl says:

    @hypochondriac: So, you print two boarding passes.

    Since they’re gathering this data from public records, that means the TERRORISTS (gasp!) can also get this information. Just send them to secondary screening and be done with it.

    FWIW, a friend of mine had her wallet stolen while she was on a trip. The TSA asked for her date of birth, current and previous addresses, and her current county of residence. She also speculated that they were able to pull up her driver’s license picture (or possibly just her height/weight/eye/hair color).

  7. snakeskin33 says:

    “Why would someone fly without an ID but with their tax returns?”

    Well, they’re not flying without ID on purpose, most of the time. The one time I had to fly without ID, it was because my wallet was lost on a trip. As it happens, I had tax returns with me also, though that didn’t come up. At that time (prior to these rules), they just looked at my work ID, which had my picture on it, and let me on the flight.

  8. @harlock_JDS: They called me crazy for carrying mine around w/ me. It doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?

  9. blong81 says:

    It’s called security theater. Just more government control. They’re going to step it up and step it up and step it up until we think it’s normal that there’s checkpoints at each intersection…

  10. Groovymarlin says:

    I think “security theater” is a good term for it. It serves two purposes: gives us the illusion of increased security when we fly, and starts to get people used to giving up more and more of their privacy, as blong81 alludes to.

    Unfortunately the TSA’s efforts and well-publicized snafus (making a mom drink from all her bottles of breast milk, not knowing what a Mac Air was, the political party question), combined with the rising cost of flying and the sharp decrease in quality of experience when flying (shitty customer service, rude flight attendants, etc.), all add up to flying anywhere being less and less appealing to all but those who simply MUST fly for business or whatever.

    Instead of ranting about oil speculators causing their industry to go bankrupt, the airlines ought to be looking in their own backyards first.

  11. pallendo says:

    The TSA is a terrorist organization. They are trying to change our behavior through fear. Make us afraid, make us give up rights, make us sheep. I used to enjoy flying. Going somewhere far away and see new things. Now, I am made to feel less than human from the moment I step into the airport. I still enjoy traveling, but, for now, it is done at a driving pace rather than flying. Trips are less stressfull, I can have a cooler full of bottled water/energy drinks with me that I purchased at costco prices, instead of airport lounge prices. I have my own car at the other end. I can stop and look at stuff during the drive. Usually, it’s cheaper for my wife and I to drive, and stay in hotels along the way, than it is to fly there. Christmas of 2006, we drove from Ohio to the SF Bay over the span of 3 days each way to visit family. We didn’t have to worry about how much luggage we packed, we could stop and look at the sights. We spent 2 days in Park City, UT that we wouldn’t have been able to if we had flown. We stopped and visited with grandparents in Omaha. And it was still cheaper than flying would have been.

  12. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Groovymarlin: I work in the oil industry and I fly a lot. So do most of my colleagues. I’m sure the oil industry represents a disproportionate number of total airmiles flown per year. I really kind of resent the airlines blaming the oil industry for their PROBLEMS when in reality they should be thanking us for our BUSINESS.

  13. bagumpity says:

    Interesting. I suspect the Lexis-Nexis database being searched is Accurint (used primarily for skip-trace and law enforcement) or an equivalent based on the same database and search engine. This database was supposed to be the basis for the MATRIX (Multi-State Anti-TerRorism eXchange), which was shot down mostly due to the horrific privacy issues.

    So, in order to defeat the evil TSA “papers, please” NAZIs, you have to satisfy the curiosity of what is probably the most evil database in existence today? What’s next- you get the “option” to provide a DNA sample?

  14. tedyc03 says:

    @harlock_JDS: ID got stolen?

    Douglas Adams wrote about this once. Something about an Ident-EZ card that contained DNA, fingerprints, retnal scans, etc. What sticks out is that this was to avoid the pain of giving blood, fingerprints, identification in triplicate, and answering trick questions about family members who had been dead two generations in order to withdraw money.

    Oh how the science fiction becomes just science…

  15. BeeBoo says:

    Why does it matter so much if they know somebody’s name? To make sure they’re not using somebody else’s reward ticket? Does knowing someone’s same mean that they’re not a terrorist?

  16. Why do they care? As long as you don’t have a knife a gun or a bomb, you should be allowed to fly wherever the hell you want without any ID.

    1984 was not supposed to be an Instruction manual.

  17. Chairman-Meow says:

    Your papers…….zey are not in order…..

    /german accent

  18. Indecent says:

    “If you have to fly without identification, memorize any old addresses, the date of your wedding anniversary and your children’s addresses.”

    So..for those of us unmarried and without children (or small children who, natch, don’t have their own address), what would the questions be?

    Not a very good list of things to memorize :(

  19. Average_Joe says:

    Rather than asking all these questions, why can’t they just bring up your picture and the info on the id?

  20. TangDrinker says:

    Last week I lost my license sometime during a flight across the country. I had it when I checked in. When I reached my destination, I realized it was missing after I had retrieved my baggage. Remembering the earlier post here about getting on a plane with no i.d., I decided to use the courtesy phone to find out what to do. The person there directed me to the baggage lost and found to see if the plane could be checked for my id. I checked – and the plane had already left. They referred me to the information desk – and told me to file a police report right now. I did so, with the help of the info desk volunteer and a member of the police force at the airport. With the officer’s card and the case number I was assured I’d be able to get back on the flight, just with a few extra security checks. The only photo ID I had on me was a sam’s club card.

    Checking back in – I alerted everyone I came in contact with about my situation. I checked in early, had no problem checking my luggage/checking in. When I got to the security line, I had to explain my situation several times, and had a supervisor called over. They were able to get me through just by verifying the case number, checking my photo id, and seeing my name in a conference brochure that I had attended. I did have to go through extra physical security checks, but didn’t have to go though the id database searches mentioned above. The airport I was at was Portland, Oregon, so they might be more laid back than JFK.

    Thank you, Consumerist, for posting these articles, and thank you, Officer Hadley, for being so nice.

  21. johnva says:

    I hate that they are even considering using Lexis-Nexis, considering that LN can’t even get my address history remotely correct (they list me as having lived at addresses previously belonging to family members I’ve never lived with, as well as addresses that I have never seen before).

  22. TexasScout says:

    Why would any NORMAL person NEED to travel without ID?

  23. RagingBoehner says:

    @BeeBoo: Well to be fair, they do have terrorist watch lists.

    I’d prefer the government do an extra screening of anyone named Osama bin Laden, you know, just in case.

  24. RagingBoehner says:

    @TexasScout: You never NEED to travel without it, but sometimes in a rush you forget, or have your wallet stolen while on vacation.

    Even if it happens to one out of 10,000 people that’s still a couple people a day in busy airports.

  25. johnva says:

    @RagingBoehner: Yeah, and the terrorist watch list has over a million names on it. I believe there might just be more than a few non-terrorists on there.

    Anyway, name alone is not a very good way to identify someone uniquely.

  26. quirkyrachel says:

    How does this fit with the Real ID program that’s being used in redoing states’ driver’s licenses?

    And *why* would you want to travel without ID? I mean, there’s forgetting your wallet (kind of silly and pointless to travel at that point anyway), but other than that, what sane person does that?

  27. RagingBoehner says:

    @johnva: I agree — it’s a real problem. I have a friend’s fiance who happens to share a name with a leader of Hezbollah. Flying is a nightmare for the guy.

    Short of biometrics I don’t know how you get around that. It’s worth checking to make sure he’s not that guy — but it still seems ridiculous that he has to go through it each time.

    Also, our ID’s in this country are so low-tech that you could just make yourself a fake one and make your name Bill Jones and you’d probably not be on the list.

  28. johnva says:

    @RagingBoehner: It’s even dumber to base the identification on names when you consider how many people in the Middle East and Asia especially share the same names. This isn’t just a question of people getting hassled, either: checking the massive numbers of people sharing those names actually diverts a ton of resources away from things that might be a lot more effective countermeasures against terrorism. So it screws with our civil liberties without any real security benefits (and possible security *harm*). As you said, it would presently be very easy to get around the watchlist by simply using a fake ID.

  29. harlock_JDS says:

    @tedyc03: (and others)

    I guess but it would be easier to have multiple IDs (DL and passport) and to never have both on you at the same time, same with CC’s so a lost/stolen wallet isn’t a disaster.

    At least that’s what i do when i travel. It’s surprising how many Americans don’t have a passport considering how useful they are even if you aren’t traveling internationally.

  30. johnva says:

    @RagingBoehner: Also, as to your point about biometrics: I think I agree that identification is not necessarily necessary in order to provide security. Instead of checking who everyone is, the TSA could simply focus on ensuring that no weapons or bombs get onto planes. I suspect that that would be an easier task than maintaining an accurate watch list and attempting to match up humans getting onto planes with names on the list. Immigration and customs is a different matter, but for domestic travel I see no reason why they should need to check people’s identity.

  31. temporaryerror says:

    I’m on the terrorist watch list…or, at least someone with my very common name is. This leads to difficulty with checking in and the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass. The fact that such a massive data base of personal info even exists or was allowed to be created makes me nervous. And to answer an above question, if you are single and have no kids, they will ask you Q’s like “what county was 429 11th street (previous address) in”, they list 3 vehicles and ask which one you have owned or do own, they ask if you have a mortgage by a specific company, they ask you if you have ever taken a car loan through a specific company and things like that. (Credit card companies use the same types of Q’s when a fraud alert gets put on your account.

  32. RagingBoehner says:

    @johnva: For domestic travel I think you’re right. Obviously the immigration component requires identity verification but for domestic travel it really doesn’t matter who you are, so long as you’re not carrying weapons — though you could make an argument that it does matter who you AREN’T.

    The difficulty is that our weapon detecting equipment is woefully inadequate. True, I’d like to think it’s difficult to bring a gun or knife on a plane, but terrorists have proven resourceful in using alternative weapons, like Richard Reid and the guys they broke up with the liquid explosives that lead to the 3 oz rule.

    I do wonder how many people are on terrorist watch lists (I mean terrorists, not false positives) that waltz into an airport and try to get on a plane. These guys must know they’re on a list, right?

    Either way, security theater is the result. Does it make us safer? Maybe. But there’s a limit to how much BS the public is willing to endure when the guy who wants to blow up the plane is probably going to be able to do it anyway.

  33. ianmac47 says:

    Why are we accepting of this behavior from the government?

  34. Canino says:

    @bagumpity: So, in order to defeat the evil TSA “papers, please” NAZIs, you have to satisfy the curiosity of what is probably the most evil database in existence today?

    Ve are not Nazis. Ve are Swiss!

  35. magic8ball says:

    Hm … some of the publicly available records in my name have incorrect information which says I’m about 15 years older than I really am. It’s got my name, a (correct) previous address, and a completely bogus birthdate. I wonder how the TSA would feel about that. Guess I better remember my ID.

  36. AgentTuttle says:

    @speedwell: “I work in the oil industry and,… they should be thanking us for our BUSINESS.”

    Finally I get to say “FU*K YOU” directly to someone who works in the oil industry. How ironic that your avatar is of a beautiful flower. Is the irony lost on you that the reason the TSA is how it is and the airline industry is suffering is directly related to OIL?

    THANKING you for what exactly you fat cat jack hole? For record high gas prices while you rake in record high profits? For stifling innovative energy alternatives to perpetuate the strangulation of our planet? For drinking OUR milkshake? OHH,.. you’re talking about the OIL WAR.

    Oh yes. Thank you oil industry for this oil war which has bred more America haters than any religion possibly could. Thank you for seizing an oil nation and passing the savings onto yourself. Thank you for helping the administration bury the constitution. Fuc4 you! Fu*k you very much!

  37. temporaryerror says:

    YES! (Surely speedwell didn’t expect applause when he wrote that post…) I’ll bet when he is forced to fly commercial air, it’s in first class (but most of the time takes a company fuel sucker jet for his jaunts over to the next state.

  38. Puck says:

    Papers, please.

  39. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Right, because a woman who isn’t even a manager in a company that doesn’t drill for or sell oil is directly responsible for the airline industry, the oil industry, the demise of the economy, the plight of your favorite endangered critter, the mortgage crisis, melemine in pet foods, your hangnail, or anything else I have nothing to do with. Get a grip on yourself before the drugs make you assault someone for real instead of in a comment thread.

  40. trujunglist says:


    The problem is, you used “us” referring to you and your colleagues in the oil industry as a collective whole, and were angry because “they” blame “you” for country’s problems. You obviously identify yourself with the oil industry, even if you’re a mail room clerk. I’m not sure why you would do this, except for that you’re proud to be a part of the oil industry. You can’t have your milkshake and drink it too ya know.. unless you’re the oil companies.

  41. Puck says:


    Must… resist… posting Youtube music video of Milkshake…

  42. picardia says:

    When my @TexasScout: Nobody would ever need to, but I plain-and-simple forgot to transfer my driver’s license into my travel backpack before I set out to fly home for Christmas one year. (I had to get up at 4 a.m. to make the flight. I don’t think so well at that hour. Now I pack EVERYTHING the night before, but I digress.) They allowed me on but sent me through special screening. Two days before Christmas: the security line is a mile long. Special screening — one quick frisk, some rifling through my bags, and I was done in 10 minutes. It made me think forgetting my ID was not the worst screwup I’d ever made.

  43. harlock_JDS says:


    actually i have a friend that is pretty high up in the oil industry and they book him coach, even when he travels internationally.

    I asked him about it and he said he had to put in 10 more years to get the upgrade (he’s been with the company for 10 years already)

  44. bagumpity says:

    This reminded me of about ten years back when I used to travel EVERY week for work. I’d fly out Monday and back Friday. Eventually, my home airport check-in agents knew me so well that they stopped asking me for my ID. They had my boarding pass printed out and handed it to me with a set of luggage tags as I came in. I just handed them my bags and went on through security. They knew me so well, they just waved me through w/o checking. (It was a small municipal airport, just one concourse).

    One week, I totally forgot my wallet, and made it all the way to JFK without even a credit card. I managed to get to work by calling for a pre-payed taxi voucher. I had a corp. apt with plenty of food in the fridge, so I was able to live on the $5 or so I had in my pocket when I left my house. On the way home, my favorite service rep actually called ahead for me and had everything arranged, from boarding passes to an airline escort through security.

    THAT’s what it was like to fly ten years ago. Remember it, and weep.

  45. FLConsumer says:

    @RagingBoehner: Either way, security theater is the result. Does it make us safer? Maybe

    Absolutely not. If you look at the numbers, they’re very ineffective. Under the pre-9/11 system, the only recorded hijacking I can find is in 1972. No terrorist attacks in 30 years WITHOUT the TSA bullmanure. That also includes the roughly $7 BILLION per year that we waste on the TSA. I’m sure $7B could be better spent elsewhere.

    @bagumpity: I find the TSA’s antics frightening and absurd, especially considering my work sends me to secure federal buildings with REAL security. It’s amazing how much different real security professionals are compared to the TSA’s uniformed apes. Instead, I’m greeted by true (large) gentlemen in suits who are very cool, confident, calm, and polite. Yet, I have absolutely no doubt that they know what they’re doing and the buildings are indeed safe. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t trust a TSA agent to watch my sandwich for me while I make a stop at the bathroom.

  46. dj-anakin says:

    I love that some of you so nonchalantly throw around the term “Nazi” when talking about the government or, in this case, the TSA.

    Apparently you don’t know what a Nazi is. Perhaps you should find an encyclopedia.

  47. bagumpity says:

    I believe the Nazi’s were a group of people who wished they had the kind of power over Germany in the 1940’s that the US Gov’t has over America today.

  48. ageshin says:

    I would like to point out that the 9/11 highjackers had id. They were in the country leagaly and would have passed the TSA’s questions. All this is really moving us ever closer to a police state. Remember citizens be sure to have your papers in order when you leave your house.

  49. VeiledThreats says:

    The TSA is all about the appearance of security. We’re talking about an agency that screens the pilots flying your plane for weapons. As if a rogue pilot couldn’t just point the plane at the ground, mountain or tall building of his choice, yet they search them for box cutters and nail clippers? Last I checked we still live in a country where we can travel within our own borders without showing papers or ID, where is this going though?

    TSA, search people for actual weapons, leave the pilots alone and leave Lexis-Nexus to the collection agencies.

  50. RabbitDinner says:

    I’m not nearly enough of a masochist to to do this. ID seems to have little if any terrorism deterrent, given, yes that even the hijackers had US IDs. As a fraud deterrent, perhaps, to prevent someone else from taking your ticket, although thats easy to fake and they don’t scan.

  51. AgentTuttle says:

    I had a friend who made it on a plane with a knife because they were too busy confiscating his water.

    Finding a needle in a haystack is more difficult when you make the haystack bigger.

  52. nycaviation says:

    @bagumpity: Please elaborate on how “Nazi America” has trampled your rights.

  53. Aisley says:

    There are quite few things we NEED to know:

    1. Short of a DNA test, no actions taken by the TSA will make anybody safer. Don’t you remember that the 9/11 terrorists were in this country for quite some time? They were not newcomers, they knew how to play the system.

    2. Even if you have with you your driver license, your social security card, your mother and your third grade teacher, they still gonna ask you some of those questions. Have to justify salary, you know.

    3. About the “No-Fly” list, what good is it if you have NELSON MANDELA, fFerdinand Marcos(died in the 80’s) the current President of South Africa, a couple of Orthodox Christianity Bishops (from the Middle East)and my next door neighbors’ son (18 months old) in it? And by the way my neighbors do not have “foreign” sounding names. He’s Mark Steward, she’s Penny Fenton-Stewart and the baby is Michael!!!