I was paring down the contents of my purse before leaving our Club Wyndham condo for a big day at Disney World when it suddenly hit me. Where in the world was my driver’s license? Dump the purse. Not there. Check yesterday’s pants pockets. But did I have it yesterday? When did I see it last? I am not sure I have seen it since the car-rental counter four days ago. Wait, not then either. Husband Gary used his. He is starting to jingle his keys at the door, ready to go.
Knowing there is nothing I can do about it at the moment, we head to Disney, but the question of whether or not I would get through airport security for our early morning flight home the next day nagged at me all day.
All right, all right you got me. Yes, that is my name on this snarky list that ran on Yahoo Travel a few weeks ago, setting you straight on the thirty things not to do at the airport. I see the irony. I am the control freak traveler who always has her act together. Have a good laugh at the image of me throwing myself at TSA’s mercy for the good of travelers everywhere, and then let’s call this number 31 on the list. Here is how it went.
What is acceptable TSA identification?
Back from a long day of squeezing in as much fun as possible at the Disney parks, my first step was to check the TSA website for what else I had in my wallet that might work. I always travel with photocopies of my passport and driver’s license tucked away safely in my carryon bag, so I turned there first. Brilliant idea if what you need are just the numbers of either of those to get replacements, but they are not valid IDs. Any thief can make copies.
Even worse, I realized that my copies had been there for more than two years and both were now copies of expired identification. I opted not to show those to the authorities, thinking they somehow made me look guilty of something other than being an overly cautious idiot.
Because the TSA requirements specify at least one ID with a photo, I settled on my media badge from the North American Travel Journalist Association. The only other photo IDs I had were my Sam’s Club card, with a blurry black and white image that could have been anyone, and my PADI scuba certification card with a twenty year-old photo. I decided to use all three plus my health insurance card, and my American Express card, both of which I thought might make me look more like a responsible adult and less like a flaky scuba diving travel hack that can’t keep up with a simple driver’s license. Either way, I thought I had built a good case for not being a terrorist.
At the airport, the Southwest Airlines ticket agent barely blinked at my array of identification when I checked my bag. He probably sees idiots every day. On we went to the TSA Pre Check security line, which usually makes life much easier. I step to the podium with a big smile.
“Good morning,” I start. “I lost my driver’s license, but here is what I have instead.”
“I’m going to need a supervisor,” he says.
Someone in line behind us groans.
“I have other credit cards if that would help…”
“No these are fine. I just need my radio to call a supervisor,” he explains before shouting across to his fellow agents at the other podiums, “who has a radio?”
I hazard a glance at the fidgeting crowd behind us. “Should we step aside so you can process these other people?”
“No. Stay right here.” The docile ID checker had morphed into a serious law enforcement officer. I started to get nervous.
Supervisor Man finally arrives, and after a brief perusal at my life in plastic cards spread across the podium says I would need to follow him. The image of a cold gray interrogation pops into my head.
As Gary turns to follow my perp walk, Supervisor Man raises a halting hand. “You can’t come with her.”
Will they let me make a call from the slammer? I have things to say to people before I spend the rest of my life in TSA jail. Where is that, anyway?
As Supervisor Man politely weaves us through lines of sneering travelers, I glance back and catch sight of Gary in line for the body scanner. At least he will make it home, I think to myself, as I continue down the long row of security lines. He’ll tell everyone that I love them.
Supervisor Man comes to a stop, pulls open the black lane divider, and then instructs me to step through and get in line behind a man in a blue shirt. Hmm. Smart thinking to check me for weapons in the scanner before the interrogation. Wouldn’t want me armed in the holding cell, would they?
He supervises the emptying of my pockets, the removal of my slip-on shoes (I am always travel-prepared, remember?), and the placement of my things on the conveyor belt. My boarding pass never leaves his hand and my gray-tubbed possessions remain under his watchful eye until I have cleared the scanner. “She’s with me,” he says, shooing away the regular scanner attendant, as I step across the exit threshold. She quickly sidesteps to let me pass. I realize that I have never been more than an arm’s length from Supervisor Man.
He then explains that I will undergo additional screening, after which I am free to go. I breathed. I honestly think I had been holding my breath sine we left the podium. Good thing I didn’t turn blue and pass out. He turns me over to a pleasant female agent who explained the extra search procedures as she patted me down. Meanwhile, another agent emptied my carryon bag, chatting amiably about how well organized it is. She carefully put my things back in order as the first agent checked her gloved hands for explosive residue.
“Alrighty, Ms. Crow. Thank you and you have a safe trip.” No happier words have ever fallen on my ears. I turned to see that Gary has been waiting with an amused smile behind my security line. He would probably tell you that while being married to a travel writer has its perks, it is not always easy. This may have been a moment of quiet recompense for him.
Mystery solved back at home. I found my driver’s license when I unpacked. It was securely zipped in a side pocket of my Columbia PFG shirt. While I was frantically rummaging through my stuff looking for the missing card, it and the shirt were in the washing machine.
- Travel with current photocopies of your identification as a fall back, particularly on international trips. If nothing else, make sure you have both your passport and driver’s license numbers with you so that you could be located in a database, which might mean the difference between flying home or not.
- Have a safe spot for your identification when you travel and develop a routine of putting it back there after each use.
- Travel with multiple forms of identification, particularly those with photos. I am personally considering getting the handy Passport Card from the State Department. The uses as a passport are limited to Canada and Mexico border crossings and on Caribbean cruises, but it is a valid form of travel ID on any flight for TSA purposes.
- If all else fails, expect a brief delay and additional screening at the airport, even with alternate identification.