There are few travel nightmares more terrifying than arriving at the airport without proper identification. If you’re currently freaking out in the departures hall, take a deep breath. Although it will likely be an inconvenient process, it isn’t impossible to get onboard your flight.
Arrive at the airport as early as possible. Passengers traveling without a form of identification will have to go through interviews with TSA officers to establish their identity and airlines will not refund tickets for people who missed their flights due to a lost ID.
The first step is to explain your situation to an airline representative at the counter. Come prepared with additional forms of identification (credit card, business card, voter registration, even mail or prescription medication with your name and address). If you're traveling with family who have their own identification, a family photo may even work. Once the airline representative is satisfied that you are who you say you are, they will issue a boarding pass with a note that you don’t have ID.
Pass through to security and explain the situation to TSA agents. An agent will likely take you to a second room for additional security screening. “The TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity,” according to the TSA website.
If the agent is able to confirm your identity, you will be allowed to pass through security after additional screening.
The process becomes more difficult when flying abroad, as individual countries decide whether or not to allow travelers without identification. Travelers who lose their IDs abroad should immediately contact the closest U.S. embassy for assistance in replacing their passports.
Although it may be too late, the best defense is preparation. If your ID was stolen, obtain a police report. This will detail when and where your identification went missing (providing some proof to your story) and confirm your identity. Travelers should have a photocopy or digital scan of their identification easily accessible. (Consider storing this in a private Dropbox account.) Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before leaving for a trip. It will make it easier to get help from the embassy while abroad.
And most importantly: remain calm and courteous. Airline, security, and immigrations employees are all more likely to help get you on your flight if you’re being cooperative.