Because July 4th falls on a Wedneday, a lot of Americans will spend a five-day weekend traveling and drinking. It's pretty common to misplace a wallet or a purse on that kind of vacation. And getting on a return flight without a valid ID, as you might imagine, is not easy. But it can be done. Here's how to work it with the TSA.
First, to make this even possible, immediately file a report about your lost property with the local police—and make sure you get a receipt or a copy of the report. Insist that they make a photocopy of the report if you have to because hand-written notes mean squat to the TSA.
Once you get to the airport, check in to your airline and obtain a boarding pass. You'll have to do a bit of explaining here, though they should have you on record as having flown out, so it should be relatively painless (at least, it was with Virgin America). Check any extraneous bags as they'll only slow you down at security. Next, make your way to the TSA checkpoint.
The most important thing to do here is be humble. Understand that they will give you a fair amount of shit because you're making their jobs harder, so be prepared to smile and nod like your flight home depends on it because, well, it does. And they'll tell you as much. If the TSA agents are not able to confirm your identity you will not be allowed to board.
So, as you approach the first level of security, you'll be asked to show your boarding pass and your picture ID. Explain that you have your pass but lack picture ID. A police report helps, but it is not a valid form of ID. Nor are the scanned copies of a birth certificate or other IDs, valid or expired. Also, anything digital is generally worthless.
Explain the situation to the first security guard. He'll call in a supervisor who will ask you to fill out a TSL 44 form—essentially a release that states your name, the last four of your SSN digits, and your home address (you must have lived there for at least a year). This grants the TSA permission to check your social security records.
Once the form is signed, the supervisor asks a series of identity-verifying questions. He relays the questions asked by a remote officer who does the actual record checks. Where were you born? What state was your SSN issued in? What are its last four digits? Mother's maiden name? Father's name and place of birth? These questions vary, but they should generally be available on your birth certificate (assuming you're a natural-born citizen). Be ready with these sorts of facts prior to arriving at security.
If you get past the questioning, gratz. Step one is done. What, you thought that was it? No, no, no. Now you get to go through Enhanced Screening.
Get ready for the Full Monty of airport security. You'll go through the metal detector and then be frisked, maybe backscattered, and have your possessions rifled through and swabbed.
The frisking is actually not that bad. You stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms out, palms up. The TSA agent explains what he's doing before he does it, and offers to do it in private if you prefer. Opt for the public pat down if a) you're in a hurry, and b) you don't really give a shit at this point. The agent runs his hands down the front and back of your shirt, down the sleeves, checks around the collar, then pats the front, rear, and inseam of your pants. Mind you, you've already taken off your jacket, belt, shoes and emptied your pockets, so this is relatively quick.
While the patdown is going on, a second TSA agent takes your items bin from the x-ray machine and swabs everything. Each swab pad is then fed into a GE Itemizer. This machine is a trace detector that "simultaneously detects positive and negative ions, allowing explosives and narcotics detection in a single sample" according to the TSA website. Basically, it's a low-level spectrum analyzer that checks for the chemical signature of various contraband. Everything in your carry-on bag will be swabbed and inspected (hence, check everything you can). After that, your body is swabbed as well.
If you pass that inspection, remain calm. Don't smile, don't rush. Congratulations, you've just made it through a TSA checkpoint without any form official identification. The supervising officer will sign off on your TSL 44 form—this is essentially a temporary ID within the airport.
Figure in at least 20 minutes to get through security in this situation. So if you know you're trying to fly without an ID, no lolly-gagging. Arrive in plenty of time. There's no point in going through all this if you have to go back out, past security, to the check-in counter and buy a ticket for a new flight.
Image: Jeff Swensen / Getty Images