Monday, July 21, 2008

Everything is fair game to the feds to verify your identity at the airport


Panic, embarrassment and shock.

When Julie Brown lost her wallet shortly before she was to fly from
Kansas City to Columbus, Ohio, she didn't know what to do.

While passing through Lawrence on her way to Kansas City from Topeka,
Brown misplaced her wallet at a gasoline station as she was filling
up. Despite a frantic search and filing a report with the Lawrence
Police Department, the Columbus resident went to Kansas City
International Airport with no proof of identification.

"At first, I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to have to drive my rental
car all the way to Columbus,' " she said. But then, "I thought to
myself, 'I'm not the first person in the world to have done this.'"

Acting on advice from employees at the Transportation Security
Administration, Brown arrived to the airport two hours early, ready to
state her case and to be rigorously questioned.

When a flight agent refused to issue a boarding pass, Brown pleaded
with her. She was finally issued a boarding pass.

"I was shocked that they just handed it over to me," she said.

Security measures

But they did, and the bottom line is that not having identification
doesn't mean travelers will be barred from flying, said Brandy King, a
spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines.

"We will do what we have to, to get you on the plane," King said. "If
you have your name and your flight number, then (agents) pull it up to
make sure you have a reservation for that flight."

King said it was also important to bring the record locator number
that airlines use to confirm reservations.

Brown's ordeal didn't end until more than an hour later, shortly
before her flight took off. She was required to fill out a form, which
TSA agents compared to public records to verify her identity; the Ohio
Department of Motor Vehicles provided a photo of her; and she was
questioned about everything from her trip to her family. Agents also
reviewed a tax return she was carrying.

Brown's story is reminiscent of many travelers' frantic foibles at the
airport. But it's not unique, and TSA has protocols to deal with
travelers who lack proper identification.

"I think most people are accustomed to presenting a photo ID with
their boarding pass," said Carrie Harmon, a TSA spokeswoman. "If an
individual does not have identification, we have always had a
procedure in place to give those people extra security."

Identity matters

A new rule, enacted June 21, prohibits people who willfully lack an ID
from receiving a boarding pass. But if you happen to lose your ID, or
leave it at home, there is still a chance to get a boarding pass.

"We believe that identity matters, so we've taken several steps over
the last year to streamline the process of identifying an individual
before they get on the airplane," Harmon said.

In the event of a lost ID, travelers had better plan.

Harmon said to arrive several hours in advance, and be prepared for
questioning that will prove your identity. Travelers can be subject to
further pat-downs by TSA agents, luggage examination and may even have
to speak with behavioral specialists.

But before travelers even make it to security, they have to get their
boarding pass from airline flight agents.

King said there is no set protocol for airlines to deal with
passengers who don't have identification; they are dealt with on a
case-by-case basis.

And if you're checking bags? Not to worry, King said.

"Every bag goes through an intense screening," she said. Each bag is
searched to ensure its owners are accounted for, part of security
measures enacted after 9/11.

"The key to this is communication," Harmon said. "To tell the security
screening officer that you've lost your ID, but you're willing to
cooperate to verify your ID."

For Brown, it was an experience she'll not likely forget, but it could
have been worse.

"It was traumatic," she said. "But it was also not as hard as I thought."

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