Dealing With Documents Before Your Next Adventure
You've got backup toys, backup snacks, backup clothes and a perfectly packed carry-on. But your trip may be over before it begins unless everyone in your group brings the right ID to the airport. The TSA has strict rules regarding identification documents, and your travel plans depend on following them. Before you leave home, check (and recheck) that every member of your family has the right ID for your journey.
What ID Do We Need to Fly Domestically?
The TSA accepts more than a dozen types of ID documents for adults flying within the United States. All acceptable documents must be issued by the government with a photo of the ID holder. Non-photo documents like birth certificates aren't acceptable.
A driver's license, passport book (issued by any country), U.S. passport card, U.S. military ID or permanent resident card are some of the most commonly used types of ID. You have to show only one form of ID, and it must be valid and unexpired at the time of your trip.
Children under 18 don't have to show any ID to fly domestically, at least at the TSA checkpoint. However, if you have older teens, there's a bit of a Catch-22. If they look like they could be 18 or older, the TSA may want to see ID in order to prove they don't have to present ID. In any case, if your kid could possibly pass for 18, have him bring his driver's license if he has one, or bring a copy of his birth certificate to prove that he's still a minor.
Airlines have their own ID rules that may be relevant. For example, Southwest offers child and infant fares, and you may be asked to show proof of your child's age if you buy one. The child shouldn't need photo ID, though. A copy of the birth certificate will do.
What About Flying Internationally?
To fly to another country, every member of your group—even a newborn—must have a valid, unexpired passport book. The TSA doesn't accept the U.S. passport card for flying internationally.
Flying into another country requires you to follow that country's visitor ID requirements. Some countries require visitors to have visas or other documents in addition to passports. Check the requirements on the Department of Homeland Security website before you go.
The REAL ID Act
The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, requires all states to meet heightened standards when issuing IDs to residents. Effective January 22, 2018, the TSA won't accept driver's licenses and other state-issued IDs from residents of states that don't comply with the Act.
Effective October 1, 2020, all Americans are required to show REAL ID-compliant licenses (or some other valid ID) to board any domestic or international flight. Unless you already have an enhanced driver's license—which, unlike the traditional driver's license, shows proof of citizenship—you'll need to get a new, REAL ID-compliant license in order to fly after October 1, 2020.
Note that the REAL ID requirements apply only to state-issued IDs. You can, if you prefer, show a valid passport or other ID issued by the federal government to board a domestic flight.
What If We Forget Our IDs?
If you forget to bring your ID to the airport, or if you lose it before your flight home, there's still a chance you'll be allowed to fly. The TSA agents at the ID checkpoint may be able to confirm your identity if you fill out a form and provide some basic information. If they're able to conclude that you are who you say you are, they should allow you to board your flight.
If you have any concerns about ID issues, build an extra 30 to 60 minutes into your travel plans. Any questions about the type or validity of your documents may require you to talk to a TSA supervisor or take other time-consuming steps to rectify the situation.