It's Easy If You Know How!
In the last two years, everyone flying on a commercial airline has stepped up
to an airline's ticket counter and heard the agent recite a familiar litany. The
monologue goes, "has your bag been unattended; have you accepted gifts from
a stranger; can I see your identification please?" The traveler docilely
murmurs answers, and produces a driver's license or some equivalent.
As a die-hard Constitutionalist, I believe that we still have an absolute,
unfettered, God-given right to travel from point A to point B
without permission from the state -- in the air, as well as on land. This Nazi
procedure of "your papers, please" has never been appropriate for
our country. I have had occasion to travel a good deal in the last several months,
and on those trips I decided to research and test this issue about the
necessity for producing identification. I have talked with agents,
and their supervisors, of several major airlines in cities across America, and
have gradually pieced together a rather complete picture of the real legal situation
regarding our right to travel.
Next, I tested this finding with several airlines. When asked for identification,
I produced only my Sam's Club card, or my travel agent's ID card, or a Costco
card. These are all picture ID's, but they are privately issued, and do not
even have a signature on them. The airline agents just freaked out, and demanded
to see some state-issued ID. They routinely told me that "it was federal
law!" The government absolutely required me to cough up an "official"
ID card, without which the agent couldn't even THINK of letting me on the plane.
I told the agents that I could not find any federal regulation mandating that
type of identification, and then asked them to cure my ignorance and please
cite the regulation. Now, at this point, individual airline agents have reacted
differently. Some called in their supervisor. Alaska Air employees were the
most gracious; Northwest agents were the worst -- they were rude, belligerent
and hostile brats. But they all folded, every time. A particularly nasty Northwest
employee marched me all the way back to the electronic detection equipment,
made me pass through it a second time, and had the guard thoroughly search my
carry-on bag. The same airline agent-from-hell actually made rude and demeaning
remarks to me as we trudged back to the counter -- and then she let
me on the plane.
Alaska Air was much more reasonable -- the agent just issued my seat pass,
and commented that some people seem tenaciously to hold the thought that they
have the right to travel without producing government ID -- to which I responded,
"yes, amazing, isn't it -- and I'm one of them." In Seattle, an agent
said AS HE HANDED ME MY TICKET, "you know, if you don't show me any government-issued
ID, I can't let you board the plane." I replied, Yes, I understand. But
I didn't, and you are. With a smile, he just said, "have a nice trip."
So I have flown several times using only my meager privately issued picture
Every time I used this strategy, I noticed that the agent put an orange
sticker on my checked bags, and also on my seat pass on the ticket.
Several agents divulged that this is the policy they are supposed to follow
when a person does not show government ID. The bags simply wait in the baggage
room until the person presents the matching seat pass as he/she actually boards
the plane; then the bags go on board.
On my next trip, I decided to push the envelope even further. When the Alaska
Air agent made the usual perfunctory request for identification, I put on my
best face, smiled sweetly, and said, "Gee, I'm so sorry, but I just
don't have any ID I could show you." To my speechless astonishment,
the agent just said, "no problem -- just fill out this simple form, and
present it to the counter at the airplane gate." I watched as the familiar
orange sticker again went on my bag. I repeated the same scenario with Horizon
Air on another trip. I have now flown twice without producing any identification
Northwest was actually instrumental in advancing my education about this issue.
I was so aggravated by the insolent and hostile treatment that their employee
gave me, (hopefully former employee, after the blistering letter I sent to the
company president), that I demanded to see a supervisor on the spot. I then
demanded that he produce the relevant federal regulations RIGHT NOW, or face
personal liability for authorizing an unreasonable search and seizure, dereliction
of duty, fraud, conspiracy, civil rights deprivation and any other legal buzz
words I could think of at that moment which would justify a lawsuit against
him personally, as well as his employer. Like everyone else, he couldn't
show me any statute or regulations. He even admitted that there are none.
However, he did produce a copy of Security Directive 96-05, which the Federal
Aviation Agency issued to all airlines in August of 1996. Its wording is very
instructive; it reads as follows:
1. IDENTIFY THE PASSENGER -
A. ALL PASSENGERS WHO APPEAR TO BE 18 YEARS OF AGE WILL PRESENT A GOVERNMENT
ISSUED PICTURE ID, OR TWO OTHER FORMS OF ID, AT LEAST ONE OF WHICH MUST BE
ISSUED BY A GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY.
B. THE AGENT MUST RECONCILE THE NAME ON THE ID AND THE NAME ON THE TICKET
-- EXCEPT AS NOTED BELOW.
C. IF THE PASSENGER CANNOT PRODUCE IDENTIFICATION, OR IT CANNOT BE RECONCILED
TO MATCH THE TICKET, THE PASSENGER BECOMES A "SELECTEE." CLEAR ALL
OF THEIR LUGGAGE AS NOTED IN SECTION 6, BELOW.
6. CLEAR SELECTEE'S CHECKED AND CARRY-ON LUGGAGE, AND SUSPICIOUS ARTICLES
DISCOVERED BY THE QUESTIONS ASKED;
A. IF THE SELECTEE IS ON A FLIGHT WITHIN THE 48 CONTINENTAL US STATES, OR
TO MEXICO, OR TO CANADA, ITEMS CAN BE CLEARED BY EITHER OF THE FOLLOWING METHODS:
1. EMPTY THE LUGGAGE OR ITEM AND PHYSICALLY SEARCH ITS CONTENTS BY A QUALIFIED
2. BAG-MATCH -- ENSURE THE BAG IS NOT TRANSPORTED ON THE AIRCRAFT IF THE
PASSENGER DOES NOT BOARD.
B. IF THE SELECTEE IS ON AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT -- CHECKED LUGGAGE, CARRY-ON
LUGGAGE, AND SUSPECT ITEMS CAN BE CLEARED ONLY BY THE FOLLOWING METHOD; EMPTY
THE LUGGAGE OR ITEM AND PHYSICALLY SEARCH ITS CONTENTS BY QUALIFIED SCREENERS.
This document apparently goes on for ten more pages; the Northwest supervisor
gave me only the first page, which contains the information printed above.
The next time I refused to produce ID and the agent freaked, I told her, "just
tap up Sec-Dec 96-5 on your computer, and go to Paragraph 1, Section C. Designate
me as a 'selectee,' and proceed accordingly. She apparently thought I was an
FAA undercover employee, because she said that she was "tired of you federal
guys coming around" and literally spying on airline agents, "coercing
us into lying to people, and essentially being the 'bag man' for an activity
which has no legal requirement." I told her that I could not agree more.
Another airline employee later confirmed that FAA agents often engage in such
entrapment activities, to make sure that airline agents parrot the government
party line about state-issued ID. I also hit pay dirt in a discussion with another,
much nicer Northwest agent on the East coast. In a candid conversation, he told
me that FAA personnel had held training sessions with all airline agents in
the fall of 1996. Agents were informed directly by the FAA that they
absolutely could not bar an American citizen from boarding a plane,
even if a passenger refused to produce any identification at all! I understand
Delta Airline is facing two large lawsuits because employees twice denied this
reality, and actually twice kept off a plane a passenger who had only private
ID to show. Anyone want to own an airline, courtesy of a judge? I have personally
flown Delta with only a private travel card, so I guess they already had their
Yet another agent in the Midwest admitted that airline personnel were deliberately
and knowingly coercing people into showing government ID by saying "it's
the law." According to him the reality is that the companies are simply
tired of people selling their frequent-flyer tickets. The airlines wanted to
stem this practice by checking everyone's ID, but knew there would be BIG problems
if they instituted this procedure as a private corporate policy. It was so much
more convenient to say it was federal law and make the government the scapegoat.
So this policy meets the airlines' private financial goals, and the
government's goal of ever-increasing social control.
If no one complains or asserts their rights regarding travel, then another
freedom is "poof" gone. Our children watch this happen, and grow up
thinking that the state has both the right to define our identity by issuing
documents saying who we are, and also the right to require us to produce them