Friday, August 19, 2005

Air Travel and Dubious ID

For a variety of reasons too stupid to get into here, I've been wandering around for the last year with only my passport for ID, which meant that in effect I've been wandering around without ID at all. (From my experience--no matter what this dude says--you can get in almost anywhere and buy almost anything without ID in New York City; clearly I'm getting older.)

Inevitably, sometime in the last month I misplaced my passport. It's either hiding somewhere really cunning, or it's gone. I didn't realize it had gone missing until three days before my scheduled flight from NYC to California. A thorny problem.

There are services that specialize in getting people passports within two days and even, according to one company's claims, within 24 hours. They tend to be rather expensive; the 24-hour service will set you back about $300, including the government fees. Although the services require all the official forms plus some, eventually get processed through official channels, and seem to be legit, it smelled wrong to me.

According to the TSA, if you don't have a government-issued, photo ID, for a domestic flight you can present two forms of ID, one of which has to be government-issued. They give the example of a Social Security card, which I don't have.* After talking with a customer-service representative, I decided to risk it.

Here is what I brought with me to the airport:
current student ID (1)
expired passport (1)
photocopies of missing passport (2)
expired driving licences (3)
notarized copy of birth certificate (1)
credit card (1)
library card (1)
I decided against bringing my gas/electric bill or my most recent here's-how-much-you've-earned SS report.

The airport security and airline counter staff invariably stopped dead in their tracks for a good minute when presented with this collection. All of the ID was perfectly genuine, just not quite valid: it was obvious to them that I was who I said I was, but they needed to be careful that they had a defensible basis for letting me fly.

I got on board my flights, although clearly what I brought was overkill. Still, what the staff seemed persuaded by, and how they reacted, varied. A travelogue with dubious ID through the link.

At La Guardia, the counter-person looked most closely at my birth certificate, student-ID, and most recent expired driver's licence. She gave me an extra card that allowed me to get past security showing only my student ID. I didn't get to hang onto the card, unfortunately.

At Houston, I had a long layover and wanted to leave the secured area. Inside the security parameter, before venturing out, I talked to the guy in charge and showed him my IDs. He seemed most interested in my expired passport. He told me that he'd speak to the screeners.

A short while later, I found that the screeners had not been spoken to--or if they had, they preferred to demonstrate the seriousness of their screening procedures. Three security officials spent almost five minutes comparing the pictures on my various driver's licences. They might have actually giggled. One of them said: "I can't believe you keep this old stuff!" More security staff wandered over: slow night. They passed the driver's licences around. Eventually, they got bored and let me through.

At Oakland, I got the hardest response. Two people at the check-in counter were on my case. They scrutinized everything and gave me hell. One of them told me: "Put those expired IDs away; don't use them. If you're ever asked for ID and you bring out an expired ID, bam, it's a $300 fine." (An older gay man, he seemed to know whereof he spoke.) Only the notarized birth-certificate seemed to save my bacon. The check-in person gave me a boarding-pass that qualified me for special security checks: metal scan, body pat-down, and overturned bag.

---it's a good idea to have more than one government-issued ID at all times.
---you can fly with only dubious ID, but the more of them that seem official, the better.
---pictures, lots of pictures, on your IDs. It helps if you're cute.
---everyone should get a notarized birth certificate. You'll only need to bring it out of your files when you really need it.
---if you're white, you'll get the toughest treatment in the most liberal areas.

* Although after nine years of higher education I have my Social Security number memorized, it appears easier than I thought to replace a card: according to the SS website, they accept school IDs!


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