Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flying Without an ID

Last Thursday I lost my wallet in another city, in a generic taxi for which I paid untraceable cash. Sunday I came to the airport empty-handed to fly home. 

The TSA website sounds promising: In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete a form to include your name and current address, and may ask additional questions to confirm your identity.  

So I walked up to the TSA officer breezily: I'd done nothing wrong, was who I claimed to be, and had a purchased plane ticket; it was his job to get me through.

Do you have anything with your name on it?


A credit card?

No, it was in the wallet.

A bill or doctor's form?


A medical bottle?


Nothing printed with your name on it?

Hold on. 

I had this conversation with three difference officers, each round becoming slightly more jocular. Then the hard ass head officer arrived. She came only up to my chin and explained with an aggressive air, how it would all work: she'd call IVCC, they'd ask questions that she'd relay to me, and I'd need to answer them precisely.  Answer with one word only.  Don't say anything extra.  If you fail this you won't fly.  I stopped joking around.

I'd arrived at the airport 2 1/2 hours early with no doubt that I'd board my plane; yes I'd lost my wallet, but flying home was a given, a right.  

Standing there I was keenly aware of how many people at airports were not sharing this "given."  
The questions began, relayed through the phone by the officer.  The faceless source on the phone knew where I live, what my email address was, who the members of my family were, all of the addresses I've ever had.  Despite my confidence that I'd momentarily walk through the gate, my palms started sweating and my chest got tight.  

Someone was tracking us.  Someone big.  And without any eye contact, any voice, any face, that Someone had the power to let me fly or not.  Let any of us fly or not.

What was the IVCC, that held all of this information?  (The officer didn't know).  What else did their database know and track -- emails, phone calls, whereabouts?  Who could access this information -- and why?  

In a few minutes, the questions ended, and I was approved.  I got a full pat down and sat in a chair for 15-20 minutes while a man unpacked and scanned every single item in my meticulously overloaded suitcase.  Then he apologized for the wait and helped me pack up. 

None of this would be particularly noteworthy except that it happened in February of 2017, in Washington DC, during the weeks when so many people have not been waved through and have certainly not been apologized to for any inconvenience.    

What would the process have been if my clothes had included a hijab, my accent had been stronger, or my skin darker -- or if I'd been a dark-skinned man with or without a beard?  Would I have been ushered through with the same relative ease?  Would my sweaty palms have reflected the eeriness of centrally amassed information, or the sheer fear that "They" might, indeed, bar me from going home? I'm not sure I would have made it to this Chipotle in terminal B, this basket of foil-wrapped tacos that will tide me over until I land.

Funny -- this same weekend, SNL said the same (as only Melissa could):

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