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My 16-year old is considering a non-stop cross-country flight by herself. She does not have a driver's license or an unexpired passport. She does have a school ID with a picture. Will that be sufficient to get her through the TSA checkpoint? Or do we need to panic and try to get an expedited passport or official state ID? I could accompany her to the checkpoint, and I do have ID. The airline is probably United, but we could consider a different one if that would make any difference.

(TSA means this question is for the United States.)

  • TSA is not about documentation, TSA is about prohibited items. Is your question really about TSA in special or rather about identification needed throughout the flight process, i.e. at checkin, at the gate, at arrival, ...? – helm Jun 9 '18 at 1:42
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    @helm: TSA is responsible for checking ID at the airport security checkpoint. That's the one time you will definitely have your ID checked, so their requirements are key. – Nate Eldredge Jun 9 '18 at 2:18
  • Oddly, the link I gave above has requirements for adults over 18, and says that minors traveling with an adult don't need ID, but it doesn't address the case of minors traveling without an adult. But there is the catchall that if you don't have the needed ID, you can go anyway and they'll try to verify your identity in various other ways. – Nate Eldredge Jun 9 '18 at 2:23
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TSA's ID requirements state that those under 18 do not need ID for their purposes:

TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18.

So we look to the airline's policy.

United won't care about her ID unless she's checking a bag at the check-in counter, at which point they may ask. United says a school ID is sufficient for "children ages 15-17 traveling alone" within the US, including to/from US territories.

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    That TSA quote says "when traveling with a companion" -- it doesn't say what happens if the teenager is traveling alone. – nanoman Jun 9 '18 at 4:45
  • It says to contact the airline, and the airline says that a student ID is the most you need. – Zach Lipton Jun 9 '18 at 4:49
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    You have a point, but TSA does not "state that those under 18 do not need ID for their purposes". Why do they bother including the clause "when traveling with a companion"? The doctrine of exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis would suggest that TSA does require some form of ID for children traveling alone. That is what makes this so confusing. The Frontier language I found seems to confirm that, contrary to the exceptio doctrine, TSA indeed doesn't require it. So I agree with your conclusion but not with all your reasoning. – nanoman Jun 9 '18 at 4:58
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    The airline will be able to issue a gate pass for an adult to go to the gate with the minor. If they do this, then they are now "travelling with a companion" as far as the TSA is concerned. – Doc Jun 10 '18 at 5:37
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    @Doc But what if the 16-year-old just takes a bus to the airport alone? – nanoman Jun 10 '18 at 20:45
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There is surprisingly little explicit information on this, but I do see anecdotal reports that teenagers traveling alone (old enough not to require special unaccompanied minor service) can go through TSA with just a boarding pass and stating that they are under 18. The one official source I found with an explicit statement is Frontier Airlines:

Minors traveling alone between the ages of 15-17 are not required to have identification. However, it is recommended to have one of the following:

  • Driver's license
  • Passport
  • School ID
  • Library card
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
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As others have stated, it's not required for someone of that age to have identification. However, if you're worried about it (especially if you're concerned about being profiled, etc), I'd recommend simply getting a state photo ID. If you have time, it may be worth getting a passport, as they last quite a long time and are a very valuable piece of identification.

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    Plus, a passport will be helpful if she or the family decide to travel internationally. – gparyani Jun 10 '18 at 6:20

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