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On the Spot: Air travel: What if you lose your ID?

The TSA has ways to confirm your identity, so you might not be stranded. Here's what you should do.

May 15, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel Editor
(Robert Neubecker / For The…)

Question: A friend and I were discussing what would happen if our wallets or purses were lost or stolen while we were on vacation in the U.S. If we were overseas, we would go to a U.S. Embassy for a passport. But because you need ID to get through security to get on the plane in the U.S., what could you do if this happened here?

Babette Wald, Redondo Beach

Answer: You'd take a deep breath and plead your case to the Transportation Security Administration.

Because this topic arises often, the TSA has recently added this information to its website: "Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won't be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone's identity, like using publicly available databases."

You may be asked, for instance, where you lived in 1994, said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman. This is problematic if you were born after 1994 or have moved so many times that you have no idea where you were. I do not fall into the first category, but I do fall into the second, so I asked Melendez if another form of ID — how about my Ralphs card? — might work. He laughed and said no, and pointed me to the website to see what is considered a legitimate form of identification.

The TSA website adds, "Passengers whose identity cannot be verified by TSA may not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint or onto an airplane."

Oh-oh. I'm seeing a nonrefundable ticket flash before my eyes. But, Melendez said, if you're cooperative, your chances are better. It's also helpful, he said, if you don't have things in your carry-on that would raise eyebrows.

Even the most innocent people get rattled, and when people are rattled, they sometimes lose things — driver's licenses, money, their minds. So I asked an expert what steps travelers should take to stay calm and keep their IDs and wits about them.

Micah R. Sadigh, a psychology professor at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., notes we might become flustered when we "feel that our rights are infringed upon and … [by] the fact that we feel pushed around by forces over which we have little or no control."

The antidote, he says, is daydreaming. "It reduces tension and helps us sublimate our frustrations into something very helpful."

Some might argue that it's daydreaming that got us into the mess in the first place, but there's no doubt in my mind that focusing on an over-water bungalow in Bora-Bora brings a smile to my face.

Will it help me remember where I put my driver's license? Maybe. At least I'll be relaxed thinking about the South Pacific, until I start to panic and wonder where my passport is.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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