The Basics

The TSA Would Not Let Me Use My Driver’s License – After 20+ Years of It Working Fine

TSA precheck
Written by Charlie

After 20 years of using my driver’s license to go through TSA, the TSA no longer accepts is as a valid ID. Here’s why.

REAL ID is the US program that will make it easier for TSA and other federal clearance areas to quickly identify if the ID is genuine. It has been talked about for a while but has kept getting pushed back for the official implementation date (now set at May 3, 2023). In addition, new machines are being added that allow you to just use your ID to clear TSA – no boarding pass swiping needed. So, here we go with my story because even though it is not yet required, it appears that my ID is no longer good enough.

My Driver’s License No Longer Works at TSA

I cannot wait for this to hit all 50 states!

Why My Driver’s License is Different

Quick background on my NYS driver’s license. Apparently, NYS does not like really long names on driver’s licenses and I happen to have one of those – when you use my first name, middle name, last name and suffix. And, since I am a III in the family, the suffix was important. So, when they issued it, they only used the initials for my first and middle name and then my last name and suffix. Also, I have had TSA Pre since they first introduced it (back when you couldn’t even pay for it).

They issued my driver’s license over 20 years ago (man, I feel old!) and that has been my primary source of identification for flying in the US ever since then. Of course, it wasn’t until after September 11, 2001 that the TSA came along and security protocols were introduced like only allowing ticketed-passengers by security but my license even worked then.

Since airlines didn’t like people booking tickets with just an initial, I have always booked my tickets using my full first name and used my driver’s license to clear security (though it only used my initial). Occasionally, I would have a TSA agent look at it a little closer but only one or two ever even asked about it – after hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel.

New Machines = Problem with My License

That changed a couple of months ago. I was flying out of Phoenix and the TSA agent said it appeared that their machine didn’t like my driver’s license. I told them I never had problems with it before. After looking at it a minute, they waived me through (I was in the Precheck lane).

However, on my return to Phoenix a couple of days later from a smaller airport, the TSA agent refused to let me pass because he said his machine told him my ID was not correct. He said I had to go back to the American Airlines counter and have them “tie the ID to the reservation” and then come back. However, that apparently was not possible because I had booked the flight using British Airways Avios and they could not access the reservation like they would normally be able to.

I had a great AA agent that walked with me back to the TSA Precheck agent to confirm that this was indeed me and I was cleared to fly. But, the TSA agent refused to allow me to clear the checkpoint since my ID was not valid, according to his computer. So, we had to wait while he called over his supervisor. I had photos of my passport, Global Entry ID card, and a residence card to show, as well as a wallet full of credit cards in my name (see this TSA page for if you ever find yourself in a similar situation).

The awesome AA agent again spoke up for me (we had never met but he could see all my information in his computer) and said that they were good with me and this was really me. The supervisor asked me where I was from, where I was going, why my license didn’t have me full name, etc. He looked at me, looked at the ID, looked at my ticket, looked at the ceiling – and kept doing that for a minute or so. Finally, he waved me through.

What Was the Problem?

Apparently, the upgraded machines that the TSA is using now to accommodate REAL ID and boarding pass-free scans wants to create an actual match with your boarding pass. This means that my driver’s license (that I have used problem free for over 20 years) will no longer work to get me through TSA. Fortunately, I almost always fly domestically with my passport since I am normally connecting to an international flight. Also, I will be upgrading my driver’s license soon to REAL ID (when I last renewed it, I was out of the country so was unable to get a REAL ID one).

But, I found it interesting that even though my license is now apparently “not a valid document for travel” that I was still able to talk my way pass the TSA. I definitely think the AA agent was helpful in that and I am very happy I didn’t have to go through the process of proving my identity other ways. But, it was a little “hmmm” moment to realize that I was able to just get through without having to use a valid document.

If you find yourself at security sometime and you do not have ID, you can still get through the TSA checkpoint since you do not actually have to have ID to fly. Check out this page for more.

I was informed that, apparently, it is possible to now book tickets with just initials so the AA agent suggested I do that if I fly again with the license. Also, suffixes are no required on tickets so that is not an issue.

Featured image courtesy of Arina P Habich, via Shutterstock

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

27 Comments

  • Sounds to me like the simplest solution is for you to use your global entry ID because that one will match with the reader and the ticket.

    • Yep, sure will be and I will have it on me in the future. I never carry my passport around for domestic flights so the Global Entry ID will have to work until I get my REAL ID.

      • But yet the TSA will accept warrants to appear for being in the country illegally…makes total sense. The REAL ID Act has been coming for a very long time. As a frequent traveler I’m sure you saw all the signage telling you this was coming.

      • I had the same exact thing happen to me years ago in PHX, my state issued NY license had my first and middle initial and TSA stopped me and pulled me into a room. After telling me i couldn’t return to NY I asked them exactly how I arrived in Arizona with the same license and a return ticket. Of course I. True TSA fashion they deflect to the fact that each airport is run differently and I was handed a phone with some stranger on the other end asking me questions. It was a complete disaster and clearly the fed not working with each state. Fortunately I’ve moved from NY and haven’t had to deal with that mess since. Great article.

      • You could use a passport card. Of course, if you didn’t get one with your passport and said to yourself “why pay $10 extra for something I’ll never use?” it will be a pain to get one now, since you’d essentially be renewing your passport early. But if the alternative is spending half a day at the DMV, it might be the best bet for some people, particularly if they are going to renew a passport soon.

  • I hate that this is what it has come to but just use your Nexus/GE/Passport card as ID to go through the TSA, and you wont have this problem. This SHOULDN’T be an issue, but these programs with cards are easier ways to avoid having to get an entirely new state ID.

    • I know, I should have had it with me but I was carrying my minimalist wallet which gives me room for the credit cards I need and my driver’s license. Lesson learned for next time, though!

  • As a former DBA (data base administrator), I insisted my programmers allowed for exceptionally long data fields. However, given that a driver license is finite in size, has a lot of data, and its print must be large enough to be legible, I can see instances where a really long name might be problematic. For fun, Google this surname: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele

  • My fix was to get a passport card. It matches my passport and my precheck.
    My state only started issuing realID last summer and it is out of sync with my passport and card.
    I carry the card.

    • I work as a TSO in the nicest airfield in the nation, Omaha Eppley Airfield OMA.
      We have many ways to validate the ID. The CAT is preferred, but if it errors on the BP not matching the ID, a supervisor can ok the ID, most experienced TSOs will use the tools and experience they have gained and on you go.

  • Had same issue in NY when I moved here 20 years ago. R.A. and a VII. (It used to be fun getting telemarketing calls that had that data piece. “Hello, I’d like to speak to Mr. Vii…”) Most systems can’t handle suffixes that high. Changed a few years ago to full name with suffix. Now, SS card, Passport, NEXUS, an NYS DL all match.

  • i travel pretty much weekly and i keep my passport with me at all times–probably because i do some stuff with the government and have to come up with two forms of i.d. so i just use my passport checking in, using tsa, etc.

  • I like to use a TWIC, passport or a Global Entry card for airport ID, instead of state DL, just because those items don’t have my home address on them. My 22 yr old daughter couldn’t even get a Real ID when renewing her license in Illinois because she didn’t have a utility bill in her name. She gave them a US Passport, Nexus card, birth certificate, SS card and pay stub from working as a 2020 poll worker. And STILL they wouldn’t give her a Real ID without the utility bill! So she’s using her Nexus as ID.

  • Just had problem a few days ago in Little Rock Arkansas. They said my Colorado license (read id compliant) was invalid. Said it was showing on computer as expired even though it is 4 years away from expiration. After a long wait and several TSA agent consulting they let me pass but w/o the benefits of my TSA Pre-check.

  • I’ve used my ‘Temporary Driver’s License’ for over 30 flights in the last 12 months and it hasn’t been a problem… it even says above my photo in BOLD ‘Not to be used for Federal Identification’. I’m a foreigner with a Green Card. Go figure

  • Maybe just claim that you’re an illegal alien from Mexico. Seems to work for the ones they’re flying around the country.

  • They refused to take my TWIC, a federal ID Card with my fingerprints imbeded in a chip on the card. Doesn’t surprise me you ran into this issue. I had a coworker also say they denied his FAA ID Card… The agency that oversees airtravel couldn’t get past security with an ID that’s harder to get (background investigation wise) then a job at the TSA. Reliance on technology doing a disservice to us here.

  • My wallet and phone were stolen out of my rental in Florida, the agents at AA were fantastic, of course I was screened by TSA for over an hour. As they learned new information about my past they would start another round of questioning, I was finally allowed to board. The amazing thing was tha/ one of the questions they asked was where I attended grade school. They knew where and what years I attended, 45 years ago. They showed me the printout. Scary too.

  • Seems like the issue is with NYS not getting their act together and getting everyone REAL ID certified. Florida started the process many years ago. The requirement has also been posted in airports for a couple of years now

  • Remember that TSA checkpoint workers are paid similarly to fast food workers and the employment requirements are not much more rigorous. Do not expect them to possess critical thinking skills. They do what they are told (or less) and are very reluctant to stick their necks out for anything. There is also no real motivation to improve customer satisfaction from within TSA, unlike the fast food chains. They aren’t going to change.

    Problems created by limitations of Real ID, or any other system of identification, is not their problem, as TSA sees it, so the default reaction is deny, deny, deny and no amount of pleading is very likely to change that. You only got through because you were accompanied by an airline employee and you were obviously persistent enough to outlast them.

    I have not travelled internationally for quite a few years but I got a passport a couple of years ago to head off future problems getting through TSA. My name is a lot simpler than yours but I still don’t trust the drones at the security checkpoint to get anything right.

    • Hopefully it will be for the jurisdiction your flying to,that way you’ll get “full service concierge ” service upon landing. No wait got luggage, no Uber fees to worry about ect.

  • I use my Twic all the time. But most people don’t even recognize it as an US ID. Best part is, that according to the TSA website it’s a primary ID but the CAT system doesn’t accept it. I talked to an TSA representative at an event and TSA is aware of it and the local branches at the airports try to have it fixed but that fix comes from above. Even military ID of retried service member don’t work. It’s always an exciting time to get through security with TWIC. It’s rare that an agent even recognizes the card.
    It’s also unfair that foreigners don’t get a global entry card even tho they have global entry status. Welcome to the wonderful world of makes no sense.

  • My Real-ID compliant Florida drivers license does not work at the TSA checkpoint. Each time they have me go back to AA to reissue the boarding pass and still doesn’t work. TSA would not let me through until I insisted on speaking to a TSA supervisor. Some TSA supervisors are aware but others are not. This is a big hassle and I have almost missed flights because of it.

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