How to Fly Without ID and Skip Lines

Lose the wallet to enter the fast lane? Strange but true. (Photo: Dam)

In the world of orange alerts and terrorism, how do you fly without ID? Is it even possible?

I learned last week that–not only is it possible–it’s faster.

My wallet was stolen at ETech in San Diego 3 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave for Austin, TX. Panic set in, as I had to be on a panel the following afternoon, but I learned of a few work-arounds.

Here’s what I did, first from the hotel:

1. I took the clever Brady Forrest‘s advice and printed out a little-known (outside of techies) letter from the TSA, written to Senator John Warner, that outlines protocol for flying without ID. If the airport check-in staff or security stop you, this letter and requesting a supervisor is often enough to get you onboard.


2. I used my flight number and name to print out my boarding passes from the hotel kiosk. I wouldn’t be able to use them ultimately, but it would be helpful to prove identify.

3. I borrowed $100 from two friends for taxis, etc., and promised to immediately reimburse them through PayPal, which I could use as currency in place of my stolen credit cards and cash.

At the airport:

1. Told them very casually “Oh, by the way, I’m flying without ID today because my wallet was stolen.” They gave their condolences and marked my boarding pass for additional screening with “SSS” in bright red block letters. I checked one bag and never had to show the TSA letter.

2. Because you are now a bigger security risk, they put you in your own line! The key is to put as much in checked luggage as possible, as they will swab everything in your carry-on for explosive residue and do a quick pat down.

3. After clearing security in record time, I called the San Diego harbor police using 1-800-GOOG-411 on my cell to file a police report with an officer at the airport, which took about 10 minutes.

The officer then called up my CA driver’s license number and put it on a temporary ID card that I could use to drive (and also get served alcohol when used in combination with an old student picture ID from Berlin). Filing the police report is also important for filing claims with banks, credit cards, etc. to be reimbursed for any fraudulent charges.

I had the student ID in a second wallet where I put cards, memberships, etc. that I use infrequently, so I don’t clog up my ultra-slim wallet. This back-up wallet is stored in my backpack.

4. Used wi-fi at the terminal to cancel my cards and get replacements overnighted to a friend’s place in Austin.

The End Result — Faster without ID!

I cleared security in 5 minutes, where it took others AHEAD of me in line with ID 15-20 minutes.

I was upset that that my FlyClear biometric card had been stolen, expecting to be delayed, but perhaps the cheaper solution and equally effective time saver is to “lose” your license, or simply keep it in the wallet and tell them you’re traveling without ID.

I’ll be testing this on my return trip as well.

Just another reminder to question what you “have to” do. Oftentimes the forbidden opposite is the best solution.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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69 Replies to “How to Fly Without ID and Skip Lines”

  1. Yes, this works!

    My ID expired, which was not caught on the flight TO but was caught on the flight BACK. They tagged me and my 2 year old daughter for additional screening.

    It was great. With a 2 year old, you can imagine that going through security is a nightmare (even though we fly often enough, I have it down pretty well). They took us aside and even talked to my daughter about what they were doing, how it would not hurt her Dora doll, etc.

    Perhaps not exactly kosher, but a great back-up plan if there is a 2 hour wait and you have to make your flight.

    ~ Elizabeth

  2. Nice! On my trip to Austin (only the second time I’ve flown since 9/11), I breezed through security in both SFO and Austin — there was no line at all on either end, and the TSA officials were friendly and upbeat. In fact,with no line, I didn’t even have time to remove my shoes and belt, get my laptop out, etc. I had to do all that while letting people go past me right on through.

    So, in short, I’m sure on my trip traveling without ID could only have slowed me down. But I appreciate your continual experimentation and reporting back. I love being better prepared, informed and more alert than those around me.

    Here’s a Tip (perhaps already covered): Flying Southwest, you can usually get the key benefit of a much more expensive Business fare (i.e., an early boarding number) by checking in online exactly 24 hours before your flight. I was able to check in at 8:30:01 a.m., Wednesday for my 8:30 a.m. Thursday flight, and got position A20 — 20th person aboard after special-needs pre-boarders. On the way back, I forgot and ended up with B32, which was at the front of the third (of 6, I think) group aboard.

  3. I used to love flying without an ID simply for getting through line faster. Many airports are catching on now, though and check your ID as close towards the front of the line as possible now. Before it was possible to run through because they checked IDs at the end of the line and put you in the “Special Line”.

    Many airports (cough cough SFO) would require you to have the airline agree to having no ID first so make sure you tell the airline when getting your ticket as well.

    This is a total ninja move and completely legal (look into the supreme court decision). There’s no real security in checking IDs anyway if you think about it. As recent hacks have shown, people on the TSA no-fly list can buy a ticket under someone else’s name, do the print boarding pass at home, photoshop the name to their real name, print the ticket and go through security with their real ID.

  4. Wow – I can’t even buy a ticket at my local Amtrak station without a valid ID, which I discovered after I lost my wallet this week and was stranded 25 miles away from my car. I should have flown across the county.

    I’ll have the keep this in mind next time I’m flying, though.

  5. Wow, I didn’t even know that was possible. I knew that the airline system was hackable, but I didn’t know it was that flexible. I suppose they have to let people through without IDs, otherwise you’d be SOL.

    The next time I’m late for a flight I’m going to arrange to have my ID stolen 🙂

    For another good airline hack, check here for a good a Dumb Little Man article about how to score free airline vouchers by reserving overbooked flights.

    Thanks Tim,


  6. Tim,

    You should do a post on having an efficient wallet and how you handle keeping your wallet nice and neat.

  7. Hey Tim,

    it would be great if you would take a few minutes to tell us if that worked on your way home…

    It is NEVER fun to stay in those lines..


  8. My condolences on the wallet and congrats on proving yet again rules are arbitrary. Very well done, thank goodness for techie info, All Hale Geeks!! I am sure having a cool head and not a total freak out at the airport helps to calm the powers that be.

    I hope you had a good time in your travels. I am thinking that joining the mile high club without ID is dangerous, could Mr. Ferriss pull that off? That would be an interesting experiment aye! 😉



  9. Just thought I’d throw out the solution that many already considered but isn’t always possible (and obviously wasn’t an an option since you weren’t leaving from home but had previously flown domestic)–I keep my wallet and passport separate. If you do ever find yourself sans wallet while you’re still at home or while traveling abroad, at least the other form of identification is a temporary alternative while things get sorted out.

  10. Hi All,

    Thanks for the excellent comments and suggestions.

    A few asked if I like the FlyClear card. I LOVE IT. Worth 10x the price. See the link to my article on this in the post. It’s paid for itself many, many times over.


  11. Does this only work in the U.S.? I live in Berlin, fly several times a weekend inside of Europe and would love to play this card sometimes!

  12. Excellent post. You made losing your wallet and the resulting hijinx sound like an amazing amount of fun and discovery.

  13. Actually you don’t even need to lose your ID to do this. I go by middle name. I have several credit cards using my middle name, etc… . My wife accidentally bought our last set of tickets and put my middle name on the ticket which doesn’t match my official drivers license. So I had to go through the “extra” screening with bomb swabbing. I got through it all ten minutes faster than my wife and didn’t have to stand in any line as there was no one else going through extra screening. I also got a chair to put back on my shoes. On top of that, the guys doing the in depth screenings are a lot nicer. So if you want to try this without lying about losing your license just reverse your first and middle name on your ticket.

  14. Hey Tim,

    One of the fellow lock-picking “students” from ETech. Sorry to hear about all this – I wondered what happened to you at the end there – but glad that you were still able to get out to Austin safe and sound and without too much hassle. I’ll be interested to hear how well this works on the return trip – if it’s just San Diego or it varies by airport.

    Thanks for the great talk at ETech also. I’ve already cut my e-mail and RSS consumption in half, and have intentionally disabled push e-mail on my crackberry as an experiment in personal sanity. So far it’s working 😉


    Thanks for the comment, Sean! Congrats as well for taming the e-mail beast — well done, sir 🙂


  15. I guess I am one of the few here who basically refuses to fly. I used to fly all the time, but since the stupid Security Theater Antics that have been put in place to do nothing but inconvenience travelers, and lull them into “feeling” they are secure, I’ve flown exactly….once…when attending a niece’s graduation. Even then, I’d rather have driven, but it was 2500 miles away.

    And, guess what? I don’t miss it at all. Flying domestically now seems to be the US equivalent of traveling the subway in Tokyo during rush hour. Been there. Did that. Never again.



  16. I think you should rethink the morality of considering or advocating scamming the system this way. Those safeguards are put into place for a reason – as a backup measure for people who have legitimately lost their id, as you did this time. If a service is abused, it may be taken away. Also, it probably puts a strain on the system as security has to take extra effort on your checked bags and a special lane has to be set aside to check you.

    Analogously, the welfare system is in place to help people who really need it, but is often abused by people who want free money.

    Otherwise, thanks for providing us with a good guide to not panicking when we lose our ID right before flying.

  17. Tim, another good post! Perhaps, this is out of place, but i have developed a tendency when checking in on your blog. Before reading anything, I always open up your photo of the two lovely looking ladies, your Slovenian and British friends at the Ash/Brock/Ferriss compound in Punta.

    It doesn’t cost anything to give a compliment, right?

  18. As a regular joe, I don’t travel much and I end up having a different take on flight ‘hacks’.

    I ain’t got no place to go in a hurry. I show up at the airport 2 hours in advance to avoid lines. I’m rarely in a rush. I setup shop with my laptop, read a book, or a mag, people watch, strike up conversations with random people. I actually enjoy being at the airport! (I *hate* on the other hand, being *in* the plane, esp for short trips)

  19. Hello Tim,

    How are you enjoying my town? Are you tired of the men wearing women’s jeans and geometric haircuts yet? You’re a southby vet; you’re used to this by now.

    A couple years back, when I first moved to Austin, I had a temporary drivers license which functioned exactly the same as no license: no line, a quick swab and pat, and I was on my way. I’ve used it 3 times since, depending on the check-in congestion.



  20. Hi Tim,

    This goes to show you never know until you ask! People keep doing things because they feel that’s how it has to be.

    Sorry you lost your wallet. Glad you made it to Austin. We liked it! = )

  21. Hey – we debated the merits of twitter on the bus back from Salt Lick in Austin and talked about flying w/o id among other things. After looking around at a couple of other posts, I now get it, much more than I did on the bus. 🙂

    to be continued, as you say sir. 😉

  22. I recently realized my ID was expired and was plenty nervous as I had to fly. I got to the airport, waited nervously while they looked over the ID and marked SSS on the boarding pass. And then i went through a quick screening without incident. And yes, the gentleman doing the screening was efficient and professional about it. It was the same on the return trip.

    I don’t know that I got through the line any faster, but I was in relatively short lines both times, anyway. And I hope to have my new ID before I fly next, rather than them having to fuss with me. But I will give kudos to the TSA for creating a good process here.

  23. BAAAHHH…my secret is out. I have been doing this for roughly a year. Word of caution. if you are a frequent flyer, your home airport will start to recognize you will be hip to what you are doing. I no longer get away with it at Midway. But don’t be afraid to try it.

  24. FYI, the return trip worked great without ID. But… it is definitely true that you move faster if they have someone checking IDs (or lack thereof) before you enter the line and not when you get to 15 feet in front of the metal detectors. Off to get my new ID and so on tomorrow. The driver’s license is important for lots more than flying. Happy, happy, joy, joy 🙂


  25. I do hope you (and more importantly, your readers) realise this only works if you’re from a 1st world country and white.

    A coloured friend of mine spent 2 DAYS stuck at airport/police following wallet being stolen.

    In my case, I get a “SSSS” on my b.p. just when I show what country I am from (it’s not Iraq or Afghanistan). I have never found this to make things go faster – I have to get to the airport 3 hours before my flight each time. I’ve had this experience for 17 years, every single time I fly.

    I think you were really lucky and resourceful, but I would not have similar hopes if I were a reader of ths blog.

  26. To add, I used to live in San Diego so many experiences with “SSSS’ occurred there. Plus said friend who spent 2 days was also departing San Diego…

  27. Tim,

    You have officially been bumped up to my new hero.

    I love the contrast between this and the clear blue card.

    Hacking life for what is truly important rather then worrying about MIGHT happen all the time.

    I love how you used both PRO-system and ANTI-system type tools to gain more of the good stuff out of life. Like Time!

    I have used the fruit trick to pass customs quickly. I know by putting it here I will probably lose this trick when TOO many people do it and customs adjust BUT….

    Basically you just bring some something innocent that you KNOW is going to get confiscated when traveling internationally. Bananas are good for Australia and Apples are good for California. 🙂

    Then simply declaring it and LETTING them confiscate it. Because as soon as you declare it they put in in a shorter faster line. Heck sometimes after they to not search or scan my bags at ALL!

    I have saved myself hours in line many times at an average of about 78 cents per hour. 🙂 Outsourcing my line waiting time to an apple. 🙂


    P.S. It is fun when the beagles find your illegal apple AFTER you have already filled out the form declaring it. 🙂

    P.P.S. Being a dyslexic writer I really appreciate the spell checking on your blog. Probably just saved my post about 17 times.

  28. This happened to me the other day. Lost my wallet in San Fran. Was afraid of not making my flight back to NYC with no ID. It was not a big deal at all. TSA said all I need was my boarding pass and to give 10 minutes of my time to extra security. I went into the regular line.. but if I had read this blog before the airport, I would have told security instead of waiting for them to see the big marker print on my ticket that said “no id” and I probably would have gone ahead of everyone to the special security area.

  29. Hey Tim,

    First off love what your doing! Its not to often that I stumble upon something that I’m truly impressed by. Keep it up!

    I’ve got a question about travel for you. I frequently travel via plane with a bike (in a large protective case) or snowboard and was curious if you had any solutions to the crazy airline charges for oversized (sometimes upwards of $200) luggage on a flight. It be great to hear your thoughts!

    Thanks in advanced, TOM

  30. The TSA does have the right to refuse you without ID. But I suppose they also have the right to refuse you with an ID as well. Some airports are implementing ‘Diamond Lanes’ which offers ‘Expert’, ‘Casual’, or ‘Family’ travelers, etc. the opportunity to form their own lines based on their needs and comfort level. I’d be interested to see how that works.

  31. Astounding that this actually works although I’d hate to take the chance and risk missing my flight. I rented a car once with an invalid driver’s license (it had just expired) and you would have thought I was getting away with the crime of the century!

  32. The only problem comes when more and more people do this everyday until airport security finally clues in and says you left your wallet on purpose, didn’t you? Thanks a lot.

  33. Hi Tim:

    While I’ll probably never have to use this, it’s a prett cool work around.

    I like the way your mind works:-)

    Our society, unfortunately, has created all sorts of rules. Some, like airport security have been made necessary, however there are even more that are totally unnecessary.

    To live free, we have to challenge them sometimes and, as long as no one is harmed or compromised, break them. You seem to get that:-)

  34. This happened to my mother on a recent visit….and she had the same experience being allowed to board and fly home.

    We had made the police report BEFORE she went to the airport, and we took a copy of that along with.

    While I agree that doing this on purpose would completely mess up the TSA system, and therefore, endanger all travelers, it is great to know that if you are in this situation you don’t have to panic. Thanks for the great post–the letter is a super addition to any traveler’s items.

  35. I’ve been reading your posts for months and figured it was about time to comment just to say, “great job and thanks for all the great tips!” I’m looking forward to the next trip, now, just to try this.

    In my previous “job-job” I used to travel, tons, to the point where it became too much. (I knew I had officially burnt out when, on one trip to Stockholm, the hotel receptionist asked if I’d like to go to a party with her when she finished work. It was a Saturday night. I replied that, “I was tired, there was a Metallica concert on TV, and I was in the middle of game of Command and Conquer on my computer.)

    The only problem I ever had getting out of a country was when I was on a – again business – trip to San Salvidore Island. I used to travel without cash, all the time, depending on credit cards. On the transfer in Jamaica, they ask for a $5 exit fee – cash only. I had about $2 on me. After push came to shove, they finally took the visa.:)

    Sorry for getting carried away!


  36. Really cool trick!! Too bad the UK has other laws, and don’t have the same transport organization. I wouldn’t be worried about flying this way — I won’t get arrested since everything will be checked 🙂


  37. I was skeptical about the clear pass system and then used it a couple of times which honestly saved me an hour or more each time by using it. It is a shame that you have to pay extra to “cut” a line, but if you travel a lot and have a few bucks to spend on convenience, this is well worth it. I have been very happy with the time I saved — let’s face it, time is money. I am spreading the word to fellow business travelers and getting them and me the extra month bonus. Good luck!

  38. Hey I know its been long since the last comment but I want to know I am 17 years old flying by myself and I only have an school I.D I do not have anything else with me do you know if I can fly or do I have to go through the extra checking?? Please answer me

  39. I used it, loved it, swore by it. But they just went under:

    It was a matter of time. Every time I used it SFO – NYC I was the only person in the line, and they were staffed up by at least two Clear employees.

  40. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for all the tips. I’m a great fan.

    I fly back and forth between Vietnam and the US every year (in fact, my next trip is next Tuesday) and the line is horrendous. There are at least three lines I have to make, one in JFK, one in Anchorage, one in Taiwan. I wonder if your tip will work for international flights laying over in another country.

    Thanks, I appreciate it very much.


  41. Yo Tim! This actually worked for me. I lost my ID on a trip from San Fran back home Washington, DC. Luckily, I had my credit card so I could print my boarding pass (I also had my boarding passes from DC to SF). When I got to security, they took me to the front of the line to go through x-ray and I got through in no time.

    I write more my experience here:

  42. tim wat about a school id? im a high school student and i have lost my license and other papers all i have right now is my school id…and i need to fly for spring break which is coming up reallyy soon. do you think i wont have any problems using the school id??

    and by the way i love the book 4 hour work week!!! its the best book ever.

    regards, Denis.

  43. Denis!! I had the same question a couple of months ago! I had already used my student I.D before but I flew with an adult! But this past summer I flew by my self from atlanta to miami and I only used my student I.D and I had no problem! Though on the way back the tsa lady did checked my ID more than the one in miami! But yea u could! Plus u really don’t need an ID if ur 17 or younger!

  44. is it possible to get through with ur parent showin their ID or wat bcuz i had my Id taken couple days before my school ended by my mth teacher.

  45. I bet you could just request extra screening and you would get your own lane whether you had ID or not. That way you can keep your license on you.

    I spent the last 7 flights in the SSS line cause I got my tickets late, and my airline automatically tags you if you get them late. It is always kinda fun to me. Mostly to see them keep a straight face as my diabetic supplies go through, haha.

  46. I just flew after losing my license only, went to TSA and right there in line they looked at all my credits cards including a student ID with a picture, and let me through quickly – took about 2 minutes.

    1. What do you think my chances are of getting on a flight from Houston to Orlando? I’m Irish with an expired Irish passport in my posession- it expired August this year. I also have a photo ID British drivers license . I have a photocopy of my current Irish passport (which is right now in the posession of FED EX). I also have a temporary print out of my new Texas drivers license (the actual license is still in the post!). I’m very anxious because my sister is flying all the way from the UK to join me for a holiday in Orlando- I would be devastated if I couldn’t go!

  47. You guys have to stop being so surprised at your own rights.

    1) We have to remember that we’re the one’s funding all of this.

    2) You have the right to travel without being identified.

    3) Stop thinking you’re under threat by anyone.

    4) If someone really planned on doing anything what would stop them frm having ID?

    5) Enjoy your liberties and take advantage of them profusely before we’re cattle.

  48. hey Tim,

    okay, it’s 2013. Are these rules still applicable? Has anything changex?

    My dad just died on Monday.

    My brother has no license currently and no picture Id that I know of.

    he needs to fly out of Salt Lake City for in a few days for the funeral in NY – hop another flight to Pennsylvania the next day for the burial and then back to SLC.

    he’s got a colostomy bag and has special medical needs. A 62 hr train bus ride is out of the question.

    Any advice?