No, you can’t fly internationally with just a library card as identification

Elgy Gillespie was on her way to the airport when she lost her passport. Having read an article about such situations, she was confident that she could talk her way onboard her international flight without it. But when a Norwegian Air Shuttle agent unequivocally denied her check-in without a passport, she is stunned by his lack of understanding and contacts us for help.

Gillespie’s story serves as a warning not to believe everything you read online. It also is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that all of your required travel documents are firmly in hand before to stepping up to the airport check-in counter.

Gillespie was heading to a family wedding in Ireland when calamity struck.

I set off in great excitement for Oakland Airport on BART with a new wheelie— a four-wheel “spinner” — and a tote containing tickets, passport, neck pillow, book, cash, etc. As I got to the sky train, I stopped to chat to another passenger in the throng. The spinner ran away to the tracks and I dashed to retrieve it — then turned to find my tote had vanished. The “Oh, no!” shock was numbing. I almost screamed (but didn’t).

My tickets were all downloaded inside my phone and I had already furnished Norwegian with all the data from my passport. So I felt I could talk myself on board.

Fly to Ireland without a passport?

If you are a regular reader of our site, then you already know what happened at the airport.

Gillespie, though, says that she was shocked and offended when a grinning Norwegian Air Shuttle supervisor told her that it was impossible for her to fly to Ireland without a passport.

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“He smilingly said there was absolutely no way I could board,” she recalled. “This, despite the ticket scans and my passport being recorded online. I have since learned that he could have assisted me by contacting TSA to help me to find alternative ID verification.”

Dejected, she headed home. Her next step was to contact us to see if we could intervene with Norwegian. She wanted the airline to admit its mistake and issue her a new ticket.

When I attempted to explain to Gillespie that Norwegian had handled her situation correctly, she would hear none of it.

Gillespie advised me that I was as ill-informed as Norwegian Air and that the TSA has “all sorts of ways” to allow travelers to fly without ID. She forwarded an excerpt from a story that was published online by a well-known travel magazine. Amazingly, this article did seem to be suggesting that if you lost your passport, you might still be able to fly.

Don’t believe everything you read online

The excerpt from the article that Gillespie was referencing read:

For those looking to travel internationally without a passport, note that you may hit some snags at immigration, as it is up to the receiving country to decide if it will let you in without a passport. Regardless of where they’re heading, travelers attempting to fly without an ID should factor in at least an extra hour to check in.

Uh, yes, any traveler looking to travel internationally without a passport will most certainly hit a “snag,” —  a big snag, as Gillespie found out.

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It is not possible to fly internationally without a passport.

Further, the article stated that the TSA could verify a traveler’s identity through a variety of means. “Hello, library card,” it said.

I assured Gillespie that a library card would never be sufficient documentation to enter a foreign country. And since the TSA has very little to do with customs and immigration, I suggested that the article’s primary intention may have been to discuss domestic air travel.

It’s official: You can’t fly internationally without a passport

The U.S. State Department is the resource that travelers should use to understand international travel requirements. This site will give you a variety of current information about your intended destination; including travel warnings, documents needed for entry, health concerns and other valuable fact-based data.

A quick check of the informational page for Ireland confirms the entry requirements for U.S. citizens. It comes as no surprise: Ireland requires US citizens to present a passport to enter the country.

Airlines are expected to check a traveler’s documents before boarding. And they have a vested interest to do so. They can be heavily fined for delivering a passenger to a foreign country without the required entry documents.

And even if Gillespie had somehow “talked” her way onboard her Norwegian flight, once she landed in Ireland she would have had no documents to permit her entry. She would have been detained at immigration and returned to the U.S. on the next flight.

Foreign immigration officers are charged with protecting the borders of their country. We can only imagine the reaction of such agents if a traveler showed up to the customs window and presented their library card for stamping.

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We can’t help Gillespie get her money back. But what we can do is to continue to warn our readers about the critical need to check those travel requirements before heading to the airport. If you don’t, you could find yourself on a disappointing round trip right back home where you started — with no vacation included.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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