If One Woman Flies On An Expired Passport With No One Noticing, How Many Others Are Doing The Same?

Anyone who’s ever flown internationally has had that heartbeat-skipping moment: “Wait, is my passport expired?” I had it a few months before flying to England, and my heart didn’t rest until my newly-issued passport was in my hands. But one woman who flew to Europe from the U.S. says she didn’t have that moment until it was too late, when she realized her passport was a year expired. Turns out a bunch of security agents missed it, too. Oops.

KXTV says the Nevada City, Calif. woman was happy that she was able to go on her Italian vacation but is a bit stumped as to how she was even allowed to go. Her passport had expired in August 2011, which she failed to notice before she embarked from San Francisco International Airport last month.

When handing over her passport to a United airlines ticket agent, the issue didn’t come up. Cut to the Transportation Security Administration screeners and again, not a problem or a red flag to be found.

“No one caught it, my passport had expired a long time ago,”she said.

She even made it past a customs agent in Frankfurt, Germany on her way to Italy, and had her passport stamped without a word. Finally she realized something was amiss when reaching her destination in Italy. Like a good citizen (and one who realizes her luck may have overextended itself already) she rushed to the U.S. consulate to get everything in order.

“I quickly went to the US consulate where officials were clearly stunned I had gotten so far on an expired travel document, I said ‘it’s a mystery to me too,'” she said, adding that she was issued a new passport there.

The Department of Homeland Security says it’s looking into how she could’ve slipped past so many officials, which begs the question — if one woman can elude that many security checks, how many others could be doing the same thing?

Oh and in case you needed the reminder — folks, don’t try this at home. Or at the airport, rather. It will probably ruin your vacation.

How did woman travel to Europe on expired passport? [KXTV]


Edit Your Comment

  1. lyontaymer30 says:

    Do people expect every corporation to be flawless and never make a mistake or have any issues? Just wondering, I’m curious.

    • Brynden says:

      For something to slip past that many people is pretty shocking. If she was able to get past with an expired passport who else is?

      • highfructosepornsyrup says:

        Probably other people who forgot to renew their passports.

      • Oh_No84 says:

        1. You dont need an ID to get through the airport security. I have flown with no ID.
        2. The flight attendants check passports as a courtesy to prevent you from flying there and not being able to get through customs and having to fly home. The airline workers are not document screeners.
        3. There is nothing wrong with getting through the airport with an expired passport. It just means when you land you will be denied entry and will have to fly home.
        4. The only screw up here is with Germany letting her through with an expired passport if that is not allowed for German immigration rules/laws. They should have denied entry to her.

    • JollySith says:

      1. This is the US government not a corporation.
      2. This was not a case of missing perfect. This was at least 4 points of failure on the same individual. that speaks to a culture of fail.
      3. When the same organization expects me to jump through ridiculous hoops and multiple violations of my civil rights in order to conduct business with a private corporation then I have a right to hold them to higher standards.

      • TheUncleBob says:

        1.) Pay attention in history class, my friend. 1871 – our country ceased to be protected by the government of the united states of America and, instead, is now controlled by the corporation called “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

        Without getting into all of the conspiracy theories (some of which are very nutty) – yes, in fact, it is a corporation.

        • chiieddy says:

          Wow. Do you really believe that? I think you need to stop reading crackpot conspiracy theories and understand what really happened

          • TheUncleBob says:

            Again, not getting into the conspiracy theory aspects of it – but the government of the United States *is* a corporation. I’m not saying it’s some secret way to make us all slaves to a British bank or anything of the like – but it’s just a cold, hard fact.

            • Sneeje says:

              By what definition? It certainly is not a corporation by the legal definition of the word as it pertains to incorporated companies.

              • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

                Don’t bother. Seriously, don’t.

              • TheUncleBob says:

                Unless we’re going to start tying the assets, debts (ouch) and other liabilities to the individuals *running* the government, then I’m not sure how you get that the Federal Government doesn’t count as fitting the definition of a corporation.

                • Sneeje says:

                  I agree with you, I’m asking the same question of the other guy.

                  • Sneeje says:

                    Oops, accident. I don’t agree with you. Alright, let me count the ways:
                    a) corporations cannot print their own money
                    b) corporations cannot pass legislation
                    c) corporation cannot enter into treaties with other governments
                    d) corporations cannot dissolve government organizations or seize government assets; the government can dissolve corporations and seize corporate assets
                    e) government has eminent domain; corps don’t
                    f) corporations are not subject to the constitutional amendments, except insofar as the government acts upon the corporations (e.g., corporations can restrain free speech, the government can’t)

                    Similarities are just that: similarities. Spiders are similar to scorpions but they are very different things. Chimpanzees are 99% similar to us genetically but are obviously not the same. Don’t fall into that cognitive fallacy.

            • arcticJKL says:

              Sorry your not allowed to make a controversial declarative statement and then say your not going into the details.
              At least provide a link.

        • JollySith says:

          Does the tinfoil catch in your hair when you wear it like that?

          • Chuft-Captain says:

            He didn’t say anything remotely crazy, and in fact say he wasn’t even going to bother with the nutty theories. Do your research.

            • Oh_No84 says:

              Calling the USA a corporation is a nutty theory in itself.

              Sorry, but the US is far from a corporation. Corporations cannot be ran like the US government and survive. The US government is just under control by large corporations who have lobbyist and not by the voters.

    • redskull says:

      When someone makes as big of an F-ing show of their tip top security as the TSA, then the answer is a resounding yes.

      • nauip says:

        And as much money as we’re throwing at the TSA I’d expect they could, at minimum, check to see that IDs are not expired.

    • sparc says:

      There should be a computerized backup to account for any human error. So yeah, I expect the customs departments at multiple departments to be near flawless regarding items as simple as a date.

      It’s 2012…

  2. Brynden says:

    Our government at work.

    • The One True Fedora says:

      How did our government play into this other than help her in Italy? At the United counter? When she passed German customs and immigration?

    • Oh_No84 says:

      Getting through the airport, security, and on the plane with an expire passport is not the issue.
      I flew with NO ID before as I left it at home. You dont need an ID to get onto your plane. You DONT need to use your passport go get through security, you could use your drivers license or no ID.
      If you get on an international flight with an expired passport then it means when you land you will be denied entry and will have to pay for a flight home. The checks by the gate agent are a coutesy more to avoid the hassel of you not getting through customs when you land, but they are not document screeners.

      Now the screw up that people should be concerned with is getting through customs with Germany with an expired passport, but that is for Germans to worry about.
      I dont see anything wrong that happened in the US airport.

  3. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    Her next vacation will be in Guantanamo. How dare she make the security theater look silly!

  4. Marlin says:

    Most look at the picture. If you are middle aged already chances are there may not be a hugh differance like you getting it at 16 and now being 25.

  5. PragmaticGuy says:

    Most TSA agents are just checking the photo and name against what the traveler looks like. I’ve been to Italy twice in the last five years and other European countries and at best they give the passport a cursory glance just checking picture against what I look like. I guess they figure that if I was on the plane then I wasn’t on the no fly list. I don’t think she’d have a problem until she got back into the U.S. and customs ran the passport through the reader to check against the database that they use.

    • Powerlurker says:

      When I went to Italy, the guy at Immigration didn’t even look at my passport. He just opened it to a random page in the back and stamped.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      They are supposed to check expiration dates and if it is expired they will treat you like someone with no ID which means they radio a guy in the back room who runs a check on your face with the video cameras to verify you are you. Over the radios, they also ask you questions about your employement history and where you live to ensure you answer correctly with what they have in the computer.

      I know I flown with no ID before. Technically if it was expired they should have gone by her drivers license or 2nd-ary checks.

  6. miltona says:

    I think an expired passport is still considered a valid form of identification for most governmental purposes. Just you can’t get back into the country with one.

    • etz says:

      Some years ago I lost my passport in Europe. At the airport they said that when a foreigner comes w/o their passport, they just send them home. Which they did. This was however pre 9/11 so who knows what they do now.

      It probably helped that I had in my possession some other very good identification including a hologrammed ID card from the U.S. Customs Service.

    • bluline says:

      In my experience, a passport is considered “expired” six months before the actual expiration date printed on it. That makes absolutely no sense, but I’ve seen people turned away from international travel because of it.

      • Mizzvick says:

        You are absolutely right

      • bbb111 says:

        “In my experience, a passport is considered “expired” six months before the actual expiration date printed on it”

        This means you are not supposed to leave the country with a passport that is due to expire within six months. This is so you don’t have your passport expire while you are on a trip. [six months may seem like a lot, but some business travelers occasionally need to stay much longer than expected.]

    • SeattleSeven says:

      You don’t need a passport to get back into the country, you need a passport to get into other countries.

      You, as a citizen, have a right to be here.

      • RandomHookup says:

        True, but you’ll have to prove it. Without the passport, they’ll need a DNA sample and to strip search your mother.

        • Oh_No84 says:

          They can pull your birth certificate, SS card, driver license, police records, tax records, employment history, credit history, bank info, etc. Basically anything the government has access to.
          That is how they verify who you are.

          Now if you had no documentation, no passport and lived off the grid then you might a problem getting back in. That would require a lot of effort your entire life for that to happen.

  7. Lyn Torden says:

    Simple solution … no more expirations.

    • msbaskx2 says:

      I am curious: Why do passports expire?

      (I don’t have a passport)

      • yankinwaoz says:

        Same reason drivers licences do.. revenue enhancement.

      • shepd says:

        Real reason: Because the government makes a LOT of money on them, and it’s a great excuse to give favours.

        Reported reason: People get criminal records or do other “bad” things that will bar them from getting a passport in the future. It’s easier than trying to track their passports down.

      • JollySith says:

        because people’s data changes, as do their appearances.
        Also revenue enhancement.

  8. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t arrest her when she reported it at the embassy.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      Why? She broke no laws.
      You dont need an ID to get through an airport and on your plane. I have flow with no ID before.
      She also broke no US laws getting into Germany with no passport.

  9. tlvx says:

    All this proves is that screening is really about racial profiling.

    I mean, c’mon… Does a middle aged white woman seem like a threat to National or International Security?

    But, if you look like a Muslim, a middle-easterner, or even just a non-white U.S. citizen… and you’ll likely encounter an inordinate delay… even if your papers are up to date and in order.

  10. NeverLetMeDown2 says:

    Why is this an issue for DHS? There would only be a real issue for DHS to investigate if she were allowed back into the US with the expired passport. That’s the only time that DHS has any legitimate grounds to be concerned about passport validity.

    1. TSA doesn’t have any real need to see the passport. A DL would have done as well to determine identity (which is pointless anyway, but that’s another discussion). So, the fact that TSA missed it is irrelevant.
    2. The airline only wants the passport to ensure that they wouldn’t be stuck returning the passenger to the US, on the airline’s dime, if they’re denied entry. The only party that could/should be annoyed about the airline staff missing it is the airline.
    3. So the German border control let her in. That’s not DHS’s problem, it’s Germany’s choice.

  11. shepd says:

    Answer: Who cares.

    Canadians were permitted into and out of the US for DECADES with only a driver’s license and there was LESS terrorism back them (we even were permitted to do this post 9/11).

    Germany and Italy aren’t any more or less enemies of the US than Canada, so again, who cares?

  12. JJFIII says:

    Seems to me the failure was not so much on the US TSA agents, but on German customs officials and United Airlines. The US Border patrol would be the ones looking at the passport on her RETURN to the US. Passports are for the country you are entering, not the one you are leaving. Her issue would have been on the return flight, when she would not have been allowed back in the country.
    By the way, for those people screaming about taking away their rights, the constitution does not say you are free to enter ANOTHER country as you see fit. It also does not say you have a right to enter the US no matter what.

  13. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The airline didn’t notice, TSA didn’t notice, German immigration didn’t notice, and Italian immigration didn’t notice.

    • tar2008heel says:

      Italian immigration never would have even looked. She entered the Schengen Area in Germany and her flight to Italy would have been handled just like a domestic flight. Regardless, a lot of people that should have noticed didn’t.

      • bluepajamas12 says:

        Who travels abroad without first checking their passport? The OP is blaming every agency under the sun but herself. There’s probably more to this “story”.

  14. aloria says:

    Repeat after me: To beg the question does not mean “to raise the question.”
    To beg the question does not mean “to raise the question.”
    To beg the question does not mean “to raise the question.”


  15. Guppy06 says:

    Methinks you’re confusing “mistake” with “prerogative.” Simply because you can be turned away for an expired passport doesn’t mean you must be, especially for one that expired so recently.

  16. Zelgadis says:

    Happened to me. I didn’t realize my passport expired days before my travel date and I had only noticed the night before my flight.

    I called the US embassy in Ottawa and they said a Secret Service agent would get back to me. (Yikes!) In fact, a secret service agent got back to me within the hour. I was surprised to find that he was very nice. He said I wouldn’t have a problem if I made sure I was proactive and not reactive about the situation. Inform them that my passport had expired rather than wait for them to find it on their own. Make sure I bring my Canadian permanent residency card so that I had a sure-fire way to get back to my home in Canada.

    There were a few hiccups along the way. My return flight from the US to Canada was tricky because they didn’t want to let me board without a valid passport, but I was able to convince them I would be allowed in Canada with my permanent residency card. They let me go and customs in Canada was a breeze.

  17. Coelacanth says:

    The last time I flew internationally, I had to scan my passport at a terminal. Wouldn’t this have caught the expired passport – or is her passport so old that it’s not machine-readable?

    • phsiii says:

      Yeah, that’s what WHTI and APIS and all those other acronyms are supposed to be about. If it’s too old for those, then you’d think they’d check *MORE* closely.

      Nice handle, btw.

    • Mizzvick says:

      You’re right. And they should have caught it!! It just expired last August. 11 months before this trip

  18. speaky2k says:

    Last year when I flew out of the country, the airline required my passport number at least a week before boarding to check it against some database. If I would have given an expired number (the number includes a date code) shouldn’t the airline rejected this? Also when I traveled, they scanned my passport (both RFID & Barcode) at least once before I left the US, so shouldn’t it have come up as a problem then also?

  19. kanenas says:

    Look for the government to be paying her a visit very soon.

  20. rattis says:

    I think that what we’re seeing here is more a problem with policy related to document checking. She had valid looking documentation. In fact it was valid, except that it was expired. People get into habits when looking at IDs. Picture match? Close enough. Name match? Yes. Here you go be on your merry way.

    Great example out of Los Vegas this year. Don’t remember if it was Defcon or Blackhat. Group went to an after party. They walked up to the door man, said hey, we know the talent. Supposed to meet him back stage before he goes on. (which was true). He says ok. One of them forgot his ID, guy in front of him said here, try mine. Handed it over. Door guy waved them through. (source: http://www.social-engineer.org/podcast/ episode 36).

    What really needs to happen is have the people checking IDs rotated more often, so they can stay fresh, sure bad habits of spot checks to get people through will happen, but rotate more and issues like this would probably get caught sooner.

  21. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    Maybe I’m lax when it comes to thing like this…but just because her passport is expired, does that mean she’s no longer “her”?

    I see the “you need to renew (insert government document)” as a revenue generation scheme/requirement, not one needed to fix a problem.

  22. Jim M says:

    I live in CT(Connecticut, for the non US readers). I’m also in a car club. We went on a drive to the upper part of Vermont. Yes Vermont is close to CANADA, a scary place.

    At some point in the drive I get lost(GPS will save me). I found a dirt road and off I went. Next thing I see is signs in French……this may be an issue. I find a town(Stanstead, QC, Canada, thanks you nice town).

    I drove back to the boarder Rt91/55. I had a nice chat on the “scary” Canada customs people more or less went like ” hey sorry I got lost, found a dirt road, here I am? What do I do? All I have is my drivers license?”
    Canada customs was great, more or less ” It happens all the time. But your about to get grilled trying to get home”

    Took me 9 hours to get back in to the US. And I had a notarized birth certificate in my wallet. And I have a current passport(just not with me), got told we have no way to look that up? This was in 2007!

    • tinmanx says:

      In 2006 or so I tried to visit Canada with just my driver’s license, no go, I wasn’t allowed in with my license. Getting back in the US only took us around 15 minutes. They asked us a few questions after looking up our info and I’m sure I didn’t get it all right, but they said it was close enough and let us go.

  23. nybiker says:

    Here’s a suggestion for all those who have a passport document. Go to your calendar application in whatever device you have (I am still using a Palm Pilot T|X) and add the expiration date to it. Give yourself a reminder of 6 months (or 99 days like me if you have the T|X). I also suggest putting a note on the January 1 date of the expiration year if like me yours expires in July. Otherwise pick a suitably far-in-advance date (especially if you only get 99 days for the reminder note). You don’t want to find out in a few days in advance of your trip that the document is going to expire while you’re away. Those expediting fees get high pretty quick.

    I haven’t watched the video, but while the write-up says her passport was renewed, I am curious if they charged anything extra besides the regular passport renewal fee.

    I carry my passport these days since going into more and more buildings here in NYC require an id and I don’t want to show them my driver’s license (no need for them to know where I live). I was at the Empire State Building earlier today and the security person at the front desk actually used my full name (that is, first, middle, and last) on the visitor card I was given (it’s used to activate the turnstiles to get to the elevator – I’m talking about going to a business in the building, not the top).

  24. Air says:

    I understand that it is important to renew your passport to update possible changes of address, etc. and to maintain the revenue flow to the issuing agency however, just because it expired doesn’t mean you are suddenly no longer a citizen.

    • sparc says:

      however, it means you no longer have valid identification to prove you are who you say you are when traveling overseas.

      Having an expired passport in the current era of air travel could involve hours or days of potential hell.

  25. Budala says:

    Flew from Paris to Philly with a guy who had the same happen to him. He found out it was expired as he went to check-in on his return trip. The airline tried to charge the guy for the next flight he had to take, but quickly changed the mind after being told that their agent in Philly let him fly in the first place.

  26. tlvx says:

    Check with your local Secretary of State. You will find that the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA et al, is in fact, incorporated, in some fashion, in every state.

  27. Citizen, not Consumer says:

    One of the nice things about the USA is that we (theoretically) don’t have exit controls: anyone can leave the country anytime without “showing papers” to any US government official.

    Other countries don’t have to let you in without papers, but the USA doesn’t require you to have papers to leave. All of the post-9/11 security theater has made it harder to access transportation without ID, but there’s still no law against leaving the USA without a passport, per se.

    So yeah, expired passport: not a security issue, at all. Maybe an immigration problem when she gets to her destination, but certainly not a “Homeland Security” (oh how I hate that Orwellian name) problem.

  28. ZzFDKzZ says:

    TSA allows you to come through with an expired ID/Passport as long as it hasn’t been expired for over 1 year.

  29. Yikes says:

    This happened to me. An airline agent on a connecting flight to a kayaking trip in Mexico caught it. Twenty bucks crossing the palm of the Mexican airport cop got me onto the flight, but I had to hold my breath coming back into the states. Lucky for me, the customs agent checking my passport didn’t catch it, nor did the scanner he ran it through. That was about eight years ago. I have a harder time crossing the Canadian border these days even with passport and everything in order.

  30. HMFIC says:

    This astounds me, every time I flown internationally, which is quite a bit, my passport was either scanned with a bar code scanner, or scanned by sliding the cover page through a reader. I have always assumed these checkpoints were directly connected to the US Sate Dept., Interpol, and the like. Apparently it only, (maybe) records the passport info????? One would think an expired passport would immediately start all sorts of beeping, flashing screens, etc. No wonder it is so easy for people to use fake passports. I flew through Frankfort many times a couple years ago and always thought German security was top notch. What a shame. I have an older type passport with no RFID, so maybe that has something to with the OP??? Mine is about to expire.

  31. maynurd52404 says:

    Unless the rules have changed, a passport can be used for identification purposes even if it is expired, so long as it has not been expired for more than a year.

    • RobotEmbryo says:

      I always thought the notion of an expired ID was bullshit. Thats clearly my picture; just because my ID has “expired”, I’m not me anymore? Only a new piece of plastic and a little revenue to the state makes it me again.

  32. WelfareMastery says:

    My grandfather did it all the time, didn’t know it was such a big deal at the time.

  33. bluepajamas12 says:

    My passport was stolen on a business trip in Amsterdam & I had to make a flight to Sweden the next day. I had to file a police report to “prove” my ID to the American Embassy, plus provide a witness that knew me for 3 or more years. This was just before 9/11. I missed my flight, but they issued one in 3 or so days. When I got home, there was a stern letter from the State Dept.In , As fate would have it, I a house robbery & guess what they took? They’re worth a fortune on the black market. I received another letter from the SD that said that they reserve the right to issue another one & that I could be charged federally. Passposts are serious business
    & should be treated as such!

  34. baristabrawl says:

    In her defense, I used to tell people their driver’s license was expired all the time in college. Attention to detail, people. Make a note.

  35. Mizzvick says:

    I am the person in this story. I only told the media in the hope that they would investigate this, but it doesn’t seem that they are. Passports are scanned thru a computer. I was scanned at SFO and Frankfurt. I should not have been allowed to fly, period. I know I was at fault, I truly didn’t notice it. The INTERNATIONAL COMPUTER SYSTEM SHOULD HAVE CAUGHT THIS. The US consulate said I should not have been allowed on a plane if my passport was going to expire within the next 6 months, yet mine expired a year ago. I followed up with ABC in NY, and KGO to point out they are focusing on the human error (United, TSA, ME) but missing the bigger issue which is the COMPUTER SYSTEM.

  36. arcticJKL says:

    Why do they expire anyways?
    I can hanlde needing a new picture occasionally but thats about it.

  37. sqeelar says:

    When you need a Passport just to vote given the current cliche, it’s far more convenient than going to get the drivers license renewed. You’ll only need to fork over around $100 for renewal or $140 for new one.

    Thank goodness for the party of small government when a state issued ID is half a days time in line after a two hour drive. And astounding byzantine collection of documents needed.

  38. BewareofZealots says:

    I found myself at the airport with no drivers license. Yeah, brilliant.

    Thinking I was screwed I still checked in at the AA ticket counter. The lady at the AA ticket counter said, “No Problem, they have to let you through”. This was news to me.

    I took my ticket and proceeded to the TSA screening area. I told the screening agent I forgot my license. They called over another agent. She said, “No Problem” come over here with me. She proceeded to call someone. I noticed then I had my passport with me, the one that expired in 2008 (This happened in 2011). I mentioned it was too bad I had not gotten it renewed. She said, “Oh, we still accept that”. Hung up the phone looked at my passport and let me go on through security.

  39. HogwartsProfessor says:

    But yet, the TSA pulled a lady at DFW out of line for a container of wrinkle cream.

  40. neilb says:

    I traveled with the wrong last name on mine and it was caught 5 out of 10 times through security. The passport authority actually misspelled my freaking last name shortly before I was to leave for Africa. The fix was simple: I had to send it back so they could type “amendment: name changed to xxxx” on the inside of the back cover. Only 5 out of 10 flipped to that back page or had me to so for them.

  41. thomwithanh says:

    In my experience, Schengen area immigration officers often don’t scrutinize passports from the United States.

    I grew up in the UK in the mid-90’s, and we regularly took the ferry over to France for weekend roadtrips. More often than not, border staff at the port would see the cover of our passport (not the bio page) and send us on our way with a simple “Merci”. One or two times there wasn’t even anybody in the booth and a Gendarmerie officer was just waiving cars through. I think out of a dozen trips over two years, we were never questioned and our passports were actually stamped only once.

    Granted I realize this was pre-9/11, but even on a more recent trip to France, passport control at CDG looked at the bio page for all of a second and handed it back to me without saying a word. Same thing on leaving, exit immigration seemed more interested that I had a valid boarding pass rather than the content of my passport.

    The UK on the other hand is a completely different story. Even without the “presumption of intent to immigrate” that US immigration law operates under, we would get very thoroughly questioned every time we came back – never sent for secondary inspection or overly hassled, but it still took us a few minutes of questioning before we were stamped and sent along our way.