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
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