How One Trans Man Got On a Plane With No ID

7.8.2013

By Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall recounts his harrowing experience boarding a plane after losing his wallet and provides tips for anyone in a similar situation.

The problem is, if I’m overly upfront, and point out the discrepancy — even if I explain my transgender status while doing so — I still risk having my identification discarded because it doesn’t match my presentation. Recently, the federal government has changed its rules around passports, so the next time I update mine, I’ll be able to correct it. But in the meantime, it still lists my name as Jacob and my sex as “F.” And the truth is, security officials could refuse to accept my passport because of the discrepancy. Still, the existence of the passport provided me with one option for accessing some form of identification, even if it would definitely take a day or two to have it Fedex-ed. In the meantime, my plane was scheduled to leave that evening. While I was running around, my wife Diane did some research and discovered that the TSA has rules and regulations for handling circumstances where a traveler has lost their identification. When you think about it, this must happen all the time.

The following applies specifically to circumstances where a traveler has already flown one way and has a return ticket. The rules may be different if you have to a new ticket or if you don’t have a return flight already scheduled. So here’s what to do if you find yourself without any form of identification.

Get to the airport as soon as possible. Time will be of the essence because it can take several hours for you to get through security without identification. You will need to arrive at the airport as early as possible to guarantee that you will make your flight. Making your scheduled flight is essential, because the rules change dramatically if you are instead trying to make arrangements for a new flight when you have no ID or credit cards.

Diane had also gone online and checked me in and paid for my baggage. If you have someone who can do that for you, it will help. I was flying Virgin Airlines out of JFK international airport. Things might be different with another airline or airports. I went directly to Virgin Airlines’ ticket counter and immediately told them that I didn’t have my ID or my wallet. They asked me if I had any other form of identification, in particular, if I had a credit card with my picture on it. I don’t and if I had, it would’ve been in my wallet. But if you do have that — or anything else with your name and photo — it may be the answer to all of your problems. Tip: Don’t check anything that could help you prove your identity. (See more on this later).

Because I had been checked in online and my bag was pre-paid for, Virgin Airlines took my checked luggage and issued me a boarding pass. They sent me to the regular TSA line for my departure gate. The first TSA agent I came to, I told my story, that I had no identification because I had lost my wallet. She said not to worry, there was a process for handling this kind of thing. She told me to just stand in the regular line. But a few moments later — because I’m disabled or maybe because she realized I was going to require special attention, I’m not sure which — she actually led me to bypass the line and go directly to the agent reviewing passenger identification ahead of the scanning machines. I repeated my story. You will do this a lot.

I was again asked if I had other identification or credit cards. I said “No.” The agent called for a supervisor, and asked me to step to one side, where I waited for 15 minutes.
Once the supervisor arrived, the TSA agent told her the problem. Then she asked me to tell her the problem. She asked if I had filed a police report. I explained why I had not. She asked if I had anything with my name and face printed on it. Although this was essentially the same question I had already been asked; when she put it this way, rather than just asking for identification, I suddenly remembered something: I’m a published author! I had even brought a couple of my mystery novels to New York City. I’d given most of them away as gifts, but I still had one. My name was printed on it and, even better, there was an author photo on the back. It was perfect! It was all the identification I would need.
Only it was packed in my checked luggage.

Tags: Travel Tips

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