Yesterday, en-route to DIMACS, I flew from Indianapolis to New Jersey.
Given that all of my previous no-ID experiences were with Northwest, I thought that this trip - on Continental Airlines - would be a fantastic chance to see how things work for other airlines.
In my previous experience with NWA, I was instructed by a check-in desk supervisor to simply present myself at their check-in desks, and tell them that I had forgotten my ID. This happens often enough, I was told, that they had a clear procedure for it..
And sure enough, every time I flew NWA (either out of Indianapolis, or Reagan airport in Washington DC), the check-in employee would happily print out a special "SSSS" boarding pass after being told I didn't have ID. Simple enough.
Continental is different.
Armed with a legitimate print-at-home boarding pass, I told the check-in desk employee that I had forgotten my drivers license, and had no other government ID on me. He read me their full rules regarding ID's, and said without an ID, there was no way they'd let me fly today. I asked him what happened when other passengers forget their ID, and he told me that in such cases, they rebook the passenger to fly another day. I also asked what happened when someone's wallet was lost/stolen on vacation - and he said they would only let them fly with a police report. I told him I had read in the newspaper that you were allowed to fly without ID if you submitted yourself to a more strict search. He asked which newspaper, and I responded with "The New York Times" - he rolled his eyes.
The best (and most amusing) part of my interaction with the check-in employee was at the very end of the conversation:
Him: Since then, everything has changed. We've gotta be careful now. Thats why we check ID.
Me: Since when?
Him: More people died on 9/11 than Pearl Harbor
Me: Yes, but more Americans have died in Iraq than on 9/11.
Him: *thinking*... We gave them 2 or three chances before we attacked, and they didn't stop.
Me: "them"? most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and we're still buying oil from them. There were no Iraqi 9/11 attackers.
Him: They're all the same....
At this point, I turned around and left... It wasn't going anywhere, and I was going to get myself in trouble if I started an argument.
So - it seems clear that if you want to fly without ID, then flying on Continental Airlines could be difficult. To do so, you're going to need to interact with TSA - and tell them that you don't have any ID... This is always a dangerous thing, since TSA can be so unpredictable (and rather arbitrary in their decisions).
I didn't to risk being denied entry to the gate by TSA, so instead, I tried to fly with an alternate ID.
I'd read somewhere that the ID given by a state-university (like IU) counts as government ID.
I walked up to the TSA checkpoint, presented my IU Student ID to the rent-a-cop checking ID's before the TSA checkpoint. She looked at it and then asked me for my drivers license... After I told her I didn't have one on me, she asked me for a second piece of ID. I showed her my credit card, after which, she promptly wrote "SSSS" and "ID" in big letters on my print-at-home boarding pass.
From that point on, it was the usual heavy duty search. Every item in my bag searched, and swabbed, etc.