You’re about to leave for the airport, assured you’ve followed your packing list to a tee, when you reach into your carry-on and panic sets in—somehow, your driver’s license is nowhere to be found. You rummage through your suitcase and retrace your every step, but no luck.
If your driver’s license is missing, you should know you’re not entirely without options when traveling—at least, for domestic flights. For international flights, it’ll be pretty close to impossible, depending on your exact circumstances.
If you’re flying domestically, you may be able to get through security easily, as long as you have sufficient documentation and show a little kindness to a TSA-agent.
Assuming you don’t have another form of ID like a passport or Global Entry card on you, you should first inform an airline attendant of the situation and ask about your options. They’ll likely point you in the direction of security and ask that you explain your circumstances to an agent there. According to a TSA representative we spoke to, they’ll likely ask for at least two other supporting documents; these include items like a Social Security card, birth certificate, bank card or insurance card. (On a recent Reddit thread, commenters mention having shown utility bills that identify them, too.) For this reason, if you’re still at home, it’s best to pack any documents that might help your case.
If this works, you’ll then proceed through security (and with a boarding pass that indicates that you showed some form of ID, according to Travel and Leisure).
If you don’t have any identifying documents
If you’re not so lucky—and don’t exactly travel with bills or your Social Security card—make sure to head to the airport early to complete TSA’s “identity verification” process, which includes “collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity.” (TSA’s website recommends at least two hours before your departure time.)
Judging by comments on the Reddit thread related to this process, the questioning can be extensive and the decision to let you thorough is entirely at the discretion of the TSA-agent you’re dealing with. For u/meisaustin, it was a pretty simple process.
“TSA supervisor pulls out his phone and makes a call,” they wrote. “I give him my name, date of birth, and SSN. Tells me he’s going to relay some questions to me, then proceeds to ask some general questions (credit report type stuff) then some non-general questions (what cities my parents were born in). After I answered all the questions they gave me the enhanced pat-down and then sent me to my flight.” We should note this is probably the best-case scenario you can expect; for other commenters, the process seemed to involve a lot more questions, though no one reported being denied access through security. Still, we wouldn’t rely on this as a solution in every instance you forget your ID, given that a TSA agent could decide to deny you.
In the absence of physical copies of any identifying documents, you should provide any copies of any ID you might have stashed on your phone or in your inbox. You might even ask a friend to photocopy an ID for you if they have access to it. (In fact, you should take photos of your passport and driver’s license on your phone right now for safekeeping.)
We should also note that with the REAL-ID requirement coming in October 2020, TSA’s policies may not be so lenient in the future.
If you’re flying internationally
As for international flights, you probably won’t be so lucky if your passport is MIA; if you’re headed overseas from the U.S., your airline may require a passport for you to fly, according to a TSA rep. (This means, if you’ve left it at home, you should probably head back to save yourself from the unnecessary stress; here’s our guide on how to change your flight last-minute, in case you need it.)
On the other hand, if ever you’re stranded overseas without a passport, contact your local embassy or consulate to obtain a temporary travel document, as u/periphrazein recommends. If you alert them early enough prior to your flight, you might even be able to obtain a replacement passport.