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TBT: The Real Reason Why You Need an ID to Get on A Flight

TBT: The Real Reason Why You Need an ID to Get on A Flight
Jeff Edwards

As the TSA again begins a periodic push to breathlessly warn passengers that their current state-issued identification may no longer be valid at the airport, a whole generation of air travelers is surprised to learn that the need to bring I.D. to the airport is a relatively recent development put in place in the interest of allowing airlines to control bookings rather than for aviation security.

A passenger born after 1980 may very well not remember a time when valid identification wasn’t routinely required for air travel. As a recent “Today I Learned” entry on a sub-Reddit dedicated to sharing obscure knowledge indicates, there is an entire generation of flyers stunned to learn that showing up for a flight didn’t always mean carrying identification that precisely matches the spelling of the name on one’s boarding pass.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly gearing up for another round of (likely) empty threats, warning passengers that their current state-issued driver’s licenses may not pass muster at the airport beginning next year, but the Boarding Area’s Gary Leff recalls a time in the recent past when the idea of an airport worker asking for identification would be as unlikely as an ice cream shop attendant asking for travel documents. In fact, it appears that the entire concept had more to do with the carrier’s desire to control who buys and sells airline tickets rather than enhancing the security of air travel.

“An airline can’t very well sell cheap early and expensive close-in if customers could buy those same tickets cheaply in advance and then resell them to other customers at a profit — while still undercutting an airline’s price — close to to [sic] departure,” Leff writes.  “As a result airlines have long wanted requirements for passengers to have to show ID in order to use airline tickets, in order to make airline tickets non-transferable. Frequent flyers used to travel under each others’ names all the time, to gain the benefits of status for each other and to help each other earn points. ID requirements limit the ability to do that, although they don’t make it impossible.”

The tragedy of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 was a golden opportunity for airlines to implement identification requirements when booking and at the ticket counter. A few years later, The Patriot Act, passed in response to the events of September 11, enshrined in law the policy of allowing only ticketed passengers with identification past airport security checkpoints.

Patriot Act legislation also set new standards for state governments issuing identification. Federal officials have repeatedly threatened that identification from states where the new rules have not been adopted will no longer be accepted at the airport. In each case, going back before 2015, states deemed not to be in compliance were repeatedly given last minute reprieves. The latest extension is set to expire next year.

States such as Montana have seized on the renewed threat of Homeland Security enforcement to bring in new revenue. Residents now have the opportunity to pay an extra fee to ensure that their driver’s license is “real ID” compliant and will be accepted at the airport.

Although some state-issued drivers licenses may soon be invalid at the airport security checkpoint, the TSA also says that it is only required to identify passengers – not ensure that passengers have proper identification. In the case of one resourceful flyer, a Costco membership card was all she needed to board her flight.


[Image Source: Pxhere]

View Comments (6)


  1. JMN57

    June 7, 2019 at 4:52 am

    All of this to keep us sheep in line and then TSA let’s illegal immigrants fly without ID. A load of BS.

  2. rkt10

    June 7, 2019 at 6:44 am

    All well and good, but we’re also seeing stories in the news about undocumented immigrants being allowed by the TSA to fly without photo ID. https://americanmilitarynews dot com/2019/06/illegal-immigrants-allowed-to-fly-without-any-photo-id-tsa-says/
    All they need to provide is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-862, the “Notice to Appear” form. I wonder how easy it would be for THAT form to be falsified by bad actors.
    This whole thing is idiotic.

  3. Ronlap

    June 7, 2019 at 7:20 am

    I am one of those old enough to remember columns and columns of want ads for airline tickets. I seem to remember that they specified mail or female.

  4. yugi

    June 7, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Huh! In 90s I flew international flight on a ticket which I bought from somebody else (completely different name).

  5. Menko

    June 7, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Missouri is another state which like s this DMV money making “gimmick” – of driver license real ID rules – by charging more/extra money for it at renewal. A real scam in my opinion, and it should NOT BE PERMITTED. You either issue a nationally valid DL or none at all. I feel like we are living in a third world “Banana Republic.”

  6. sunshineaz

    August 23, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Arizona also makes money on the Real ID, it is an extra charge over and above your driver’s license.

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