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I recently flew 4 segments with Lufthansa, all within the Schengen zone, and they were checking ID at the gate on only 1 out of the 4. In all 4 cases I had checked in online and had no checked baggage. So I'm just curious what the rules/policies are on this.

I know some airlines always check for ID, but this was the same airline. I've had that experience with Norwegian, too: no ID check on the outbound leg of the trip, but then an ID check on return. (So one may leave his country of residence without ID and then get stranded overseas!)

So clearly it's not just a per-airline policy. Does anyone know what determines whether an ID check at the gate is done or not? Does it depend on the country of departure/arrival? On the airport? How much the flight is delayed?

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    I found that ID control at the gate within Schengen to be mostly random with no discernable pattern. Most likely it's a mixture of local policies, specific alerts for your travel day and location and good old "mood of the day" of the gate agent.
    – Hilmar
    Apr 23, 2023 at 12:25
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    There is no system. ID checks are in some places stringent by local law (e.g., Spain) and in other places absent or almost arbitrary. I don't believe that the Schengen agreement mandates ID checks, it's up to the national government. Airlines may enforce ID checks for revenue protection, governments may enforce them for non-commercial reasons. Agents, who often work for multiple airlines, may enforce them out of habit. Air travel is much more disorganized than is often thought.
    – Calchas
    Apr 23, 2023 at 17:45
  • Ah, the 1 LH leg with the ID check was departing from Spain, actually, so that explains that - thanks.
    – EM0
    Apr 23, 2023 at 19:02

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There are multiple possible reasons for checking ID:

  • Immigration status: while normally not required for internal Schengen flights, there may be “temporary reintroduction of checks” at some borders. This may result in increased checks before boarding (by the airline or some other agent) and/or checks at the destination (by border police). So this will depend on the origin/destination pair.
  • Security: some countries require all passengers to have been positively identified to match the data on the booking. This is the case of France for instance (they dropped it for a very short while and then it came back extremely quickly). Some countries require it (or used to) only if you have checked luggage.
  • Airline policy: to avoid people reselling or otherwise transferring non-refundable tickets to other people, they may check that the name of the booking matches your ID. Depends on the airline, and may depend on the actual fare.

Also, remember that most airlines outsource ground operations to local agents which work for many different airlines. To simplify training, those agents sometimes apply the same rules for all airlines they serve even if there is not required.

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