Lost Passport Question (TV Show Related, not Real Life)

Based on a plot device in a show.

Suppose a person arrives in the US, having somehow lost his passport between the time he boards the plane and the time he arrives at US customs. In the show that inspired the question, the British passenger had his passport stolen on the plane. Doesn’t matter how it got lost.

What happens when the person arrives at US Customs sans passport? Are they just turned around? If so, won’t they need a passport when they get home? Is there a procedure whereby the national’s country can transmit a facsimile?

I’m not a border inspector, but I would imagine there would be a lot of discretion for the inspectors involved. The passenger could try to explain the whole story to CBP, and if the inspectors are in a good mood they might give the passenger an opportunity to contact the British embassy or consulate to for an emergency passport, and keep them waiting at the airport until this is sorted out. They might also decide not to go through that hassle and plainly refuse entry, which would mean the airline would have to haul the passenger back to Britain on the next flight. At the British immigration check, they would certainly not turn the passenger away; they would give them another opportunity to prove citizenship by other means. So no “The Terminal” kind of scenario.

This happened to me. I lost my passport switching planes in Frankfurt. There was a TSA agent in Frankfurt who got me on board the flight home. Arriving in Boston they just pulled me into the office, verified my identity by my driver’s license, filled out a form, and sent me on my way.

Of course I was a US citizen returning home to the United States. I’m sure it would be different for someone from another country.

Yeah, this. I was in Vegas many years ago, with a friend who happened to be a British diplomat. Another person at the event had lost their passport, and she was able to tell him how to access emergency services to replace it. Such services are pretty common, see here for a page on what Canadian embassies can offer:

Some countries also provide help for other countries. There’s a note on my Canadian passport that if no Canadian embassy or consulate is available, I can request assistance at a British facility.

I believe Canada has also signed a treaty with Australia, that both countries will offer consular services for the other in locations where the other has no embassy.

I read that one should always make a couple of photo copies of one’s passport so that, if the actual passport is lost or stolen, you can use the copy to at least get yourself home. I don’t know first hand if this is a valid assertion.

Yes, this will help the embassy or representative verify your identity, but it’s not a substitute for a passport. When I lost mine, the TSA rep pulled up an image of my passport from his system and that was all that I needed to get on the flight home. But once I got home to the US I still had to go through the process to be verified before they let out of the airport.

And this is the big take-away. With the number of travelers coming and going on any given day, it’s nearly guaranteed that at least some of them will have legitimate problems like lost or stolen passports, and so the border guys have procedures in place to deal with it.

Just so long as you don’t go out of your way to look suspicious, or like an asshole, they’ll generally try to help you out.

In fact, aside from the obvious annoyance at the initial passport control check that they hadn’t been notified by the TSA in Frankfurt that I was on that plane, the folks in the office were cordial and a little excited to teach a newbie how to process my arrival in the system.

FWIW, I once lost my drivers license on vacation and didn’t realize it until the night before I went to board the flight home.

I managed to scrounge up enough ID to board the flight, the lucky charm was a very old temporary photo ID I was issued for a construction site. The ID card was over 10 years old and had nothing on it but my name, the name of the subcontractor I was working for and my photo. But it did the trick, along with my credit cards.

Here’s the clinker, which still baffles me.

I also had a clear full-sized photo of my drivers license, front and back - enlarged to iPad screen size. I thought this might be useful in my situation, but it wasn’t. In fact, the TSA officers refused to even look at it, they said it was completely and totally worthless as ID.

Wow, that was hairy! It also makes no sense, but I have a feeling each officer uses more than a little personal judgment in deciding what works and what doesn’t. I’m glad you found a way out of that jam.

My birthday pretty much coincides with the end of the school year, and I left for Hawaii about 4 days after my birthday. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I needed to renew my license, so it had expired. I guess the guy checking me when I left for the trip didn’t notice it had expired but, and again unfortunately, the guy checking me for the flight back did. Wow, he made a big deal of it and was threatening not to let me board. His superior noticed and intervened. I simply said, “I know it’s expired, but that doesn’t mean that I stopped being me the next day.” He looked at me and then let me pass. Sheesh.

From what I understand, there’s a difference between losing your passport in another country and losing your passport before you officially get to the other country (in between the plane and customs).

If you’re already in the country, you can figure it out with help from the embassy. But if you’re not there yet, you end up with stories like this: The smart traveler's guide to passports, visas and IDs - Elliott Report

BTW, Customs checks whether you’re bringing in illegal items, are over the legal limit on permitted items, or need to pay taxes. Immigration (or Passport Control) checks whether you are allowed in the country.

Aren’t both functions combined in the US under the umbrella of CBP?

You have to go through Immigration first before you get your luggage and go through Customs. Different groups of people, different functions, in the same agency.

A lot of hotels won’t accept driver’s licenses on phones because they’re too easy to.fake. I imagine that’s the reason the TSA agent wouldn’t accept it either.

That link includes what I’d expect to happen if I lost my passport on an international flight to a place I’m not a citizen of - on the flight itself, after going through immigration at the departure end, but before entering the host country. The airline did actually search for her purse, and beyond that, nobody’s really going to be able to do anything.

Getting a lost or stolen passport replaced when you’re already in a foreign country is not really that hard (although when it happened to me it meant sleeping on the streets for a long weekend, because the Embassy was closed) - it happens fairly regularly and there are set ways of getting a replacement.

But unless you’re incredibly important, or there for a life-saving operation or something, embassy staff aren’t going to come out to the airport to arrange a replacement passport for you.

Some countries do accept ID cards for international travel from certain other countries, of course, but the same issue would apply if you lost your ID card. You definitely can’t just use a photocopy. That’d be useful to have mainly so that you had your passport details to hand.

Yeah, I never understood those denials for plane boarding and booze purchases. I realize that if my DL is expired then the state no longer authorizes me to operate a motor vehicle, but it still identifies me as who I am just like it did prior.