Can you use your TWIC Card at Airport Security?

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Well, the short answer is – yes, but it’s complicated. You might not be familiar with the TWIC Card so here is a short intro.

What is a TWIC Card?

TWIC stands for Transportation Worker Identification Credendial. This card is required for workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels. TSA, which is the same organization operating airport security checkpoints, will conduct a so-called “threat assessment” when you sign up for this credential/card. This is just a fancy way of saying – background check.

Sample of a TWIC Card

I won’t go deeper into how to get a TWIC or how to apply for one. I might do this in  different post. Because of my job, I have to get often into ports to receive equipment and without TWIC it is a hard, as you need to be escorted all the time. So after I signed up, I was super happy that I could use it as my identification at airport security as well. 

Primary forms of ID at the TSA Security Check Point

To be able to get through security, everyone over the age of 18 has to show a primary form of identification. Below is a list of identifications which are accepted by the TSA. You can find the same list on the TSA Homepage.

  • Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential (TWIC)
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

As you can see, the TWIC card is on the list as a primary form of identification. So if you have ever been to an airport security checkpoint, you most likely used your driver’s license to identify yourself and showed your boarding pass. You probably never had to show other IDs or forms of identification that way. Only driver’s license and boarding pass.
That’s why it is called primary form of identification. You show this one and you are good to go.

Secondary forms of ID at the TSA Security Check Point

If you arrive at the airport without proper ID there is still a chance that you can make it through security. TSA can ask for secondary IDs to confirm your identity. This documents should have identifying information on them such as photo, address, phone number, social security number or date of birth.

  • Temporary paper IDs
  • Expired IDs
  • Credit cards
  • Social security cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Bank statements or bills

According to TSA, there is no standard list of what secondary forms of IDs are accepted. Just bring whatever you have available. If you just forgot your license you might only have credit cards with your name on them in your wallet. Who carries their birth certificate or marriage certificate around all the time? 🙂

If TSA is able to confirm your identity this way, they will let you pass through the security checkpoint. I had to go through one of these processes when they just wouldn’t honor my TWIC card as primary. They wanted to see multiple credit cards. I just wonder what you do if you only have one credit card. I also showed the TSA agents multiple foreign forms of ID. After that, they were happy. 

Using TWIC at airport security in the past

Think a couple of years back, maybe three to four years. You walked up to the security checkpoint with your ID, most likely your driver’s license, and boarding pass in hand. You handed it over to the TSA agent, he scanned your boarding pass and visually compared the photo of your driver’s license with you and your face. After a quick check, you were good to go.

Security Checkpoint 3 at SEA

I used the TWIC card in that era as well. I also actually used it as a form of ID at the airline check-in counter. It was always a fun experience as most airline employees don’t even recognize the card. Some even believe it is not a U.S. government-issued ID. 😉

Then the same experience when I showed it to the TSA agent checking IDs. Most of them didn’t recognize the ID even though they have a similar ID and undergo the same threat assessment when they get their credentials. Some agents recognized the ID and let me through right away. To some, I had to explain what kind of ID it actually is and also tell them that it is a U.S. government-issued ID. On the other hand, there were instances when TSA agents had to get their supervisors to double-check. This took the most time for me to clear security and was holding up the line behind me. Especially because I always use it in the TSA PreCheck line, which I got through my Global Entry. A little bit more about TSA PreCheck later.

Using TWIC in the age of CAT/BPSS

First, let’s define what CAT and BPSS stand for. The government just loves to come up with fancy acronyms.

CAT stands for Credential Authentication Technology

BPSS stands for Boarding Pass Scanning System

These two acronyms are actually the system (hardware and software) that is now installed at basically every security checkpoint at bigger airports. If you have flown in the last few years you had to put your ID in a little scanner and scan your boarding pass. Sometimes the agent scans them for you, sometimes they make you do all the work. 

I don’t even know why there is still an agent. They could just install automatic gates. The system compares the data from the scanned ID with the data encrypted on the boarding pass. It also reads the image on the ID and shows it to the agent and he can verify your face with the one displayed. Once done you are good to go. I am sure we could install cameras for facial recognition, which is probably more accurate than human perception.

This is the same process at every checkpoint now. No matter if you are in the TSA PreCheck line or just the regular security line.

CAT also communicates with Secure Flight. The Secure Flight TSA program conducts pre-screening on all air travelers and confirms travelers’ flight details. This ensures that they are ticketed for travel that day. CAT also displays the pre-screening status (like TSA PreCheck) without the need of a boarding pass. That means, by scanning your ID, they know if you have PreCheck or not, however, you can’t enter the PreCheck line without a boarding pass showing PreCheck on it. Even if you are able to get in line and up to ID verification. If the boarding pass doesn’t show the PreCheck status on the boarding pass, TSA turns you away. Just another indicator of how badly integrated this multi-million dollar system is. Theoretically, you shouldn’t even have to show your boarding pass at the security checkpoint as the system is supposed to cross-reference all that by itself. This was the selling point of getting these machines installed for which all the taxpayers paid. It is supposed to cut down on ID and boarding pass fraud.

Accepted forms of ID for CAT

Here is a list of accepted forms of IDs which CAT can read. This list is from the TSA Homepage (Date 2021-06-26)

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) ID. This includes IDs for active duty and retired military, their dependents, and DOD civilians. Also, the DOD Common Access Card (CAC).
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner ID
  • Trusted Traveler card:
    – Global Entry
    – Secure Electronic Network for Traveler Rapid Inspection (SENTRI)
    – Free and Secure Trade (FAST) ID
    – NEXUS card
  • Permanent Resident Card/Resident Alien Card (I-551)
  • Border Crossing Card/nonimmigrant visa (DSP-150)
  • DHS refugee travel document (I-571)
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Employment Authorization Document (I-766)
  • Driver’s or enhanced driver’s license
  • Identification card issued by or under authority of a state Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent state office that is intended or commonly accepted for the purpose of identifying individuals
  • Passports
  • United Nations laissez-passer
  • Canadian driver’s license
  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) card

Guess what’s missing? Correct! The TWIC Card. I think it’s the only form of ID which is listed as primary ID but not accepted by CAT. Did you expect this after long trial periods and millions of dollars spent on this system? I absolutely did. 🙂 

It wouldn’t be fun if everything would go smoothly. Where is the adventure in that?

Future of TWIC at Airport Security

On one of my recent trips at LAX, I had a short chat with one of the supervisors. He told me that TSA is aware of this issue and that even the agents have issues using their IDs. There are rumors going around that this will be fixed when the summer travel season starts. Well, he forgot to mention the summer travel season of which year. Certainly not this one (2021), as we have now October and I still can’t use my TWIC card as intended.

TWIC Bonus: TSA PreCheck

Someone realized that you undergo the same kind of background check when you sign up for TWIC, TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry. Since April 15, 2020, TWIC cardholders are eligible for TSA PreCheck at no extra cost or additional enrollment. There are some exceptions to that, however. You have to be either a U.S. Citizen, U.S. national, or a lawful permanent resident. All you need is an active TWIC card.

Instead of your KTN (Known Traveler Number) you will use your TWIC CIN (Credential Identification Number) and enter it online during your reservation where you would normally put your KTN. You can also save it in the account profile of your airline and it will get populated automatically.

More information can be found on TSA’s FAQ sheet for TSA PreCheck with TWIC.

Finding your CIN

Your Credential Identification Number is printed on the backside of your card. There is no way to retrieve it online. It’s the number on the left lower part of the card.

Backside fo the TWIC Card (Courtesy of TSA)

Conclusion

At the current state of the system, it is just a nightmare to travel with a TWIC card. It should be way easier as many people out there have one but most of them also have other forms of IDs which makes it easy for them.

I was super excited to get the TWIC card. As a foreigner, this saves my passport from being torn apart by TSA agents. They don’t always handle the passport with care and it’s hard to get a new one if you are overseas. That’s why I was so excited to get a TWIC card. At the moment I would recommend everyone avoid using the TWIC card for airport security. You could use it as a secondary ID if you have it handy but don’t rely on it. It’s a shame that after all the millions of dollars spent on this news screening process and system, the system is not able to accept all of the allowed forms of primary ID. TSA Agents at the airport don’t like to hear about that.

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