REAL ID: What You Need to Know


Now is a good time to look at your driver’s license and consider getting a new one.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, only driver’s licenses and identification cards that meet increased security standards will be accepted by the federal government to board commercially operated flights. The same will apply to anyone who wants to enter a federal building or nuclear power plant.

The REAL ID Act of 2005, which established this new requirement, was created as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It requires states to ask for additional proof of residence and social security cards or numbers to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards that will be built with new technology intended to make them more secure. Most state REAL ID compliant licenses and ID cards will have a gold or black star on the front. But each state will implement the law in its own way within the guidelines, so there will be exceptions to this. The bottom line: It’s best to check with each particular state what the new IDs will look like.

The effective date has been postponed many times, but the federal government says Oct. 1, 2020 is it, and as of now, there are no plans to delay that.

Some experts are not so certain.

“REAL ID has been pushed back so many times, we’re not certain it won’t happen again,” said Jeff Price, an aviation expert and owner of Leading Edge Strategies, an airport management training company.

But the Homeland Security official was adamant. “At this time there are no plans to extend to the October 1, 2020 deadline,” the official said this week.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration have started campaigns to alert the public that the deadline is looming. Groups that will be impacted by the new law are also educating travelers.

Here is what travelers need to know about REAL ID.

If you don’t get a REAL ID, what is another acceptable form of identification?

There are various types of identification other than a driver’s license that have always been accepted for travel. That won’t change. These IDs include a U.S. passport, a U.S. passport card, a Department of Homeland Security Card such as a Global Entry ID, a permanent resident card, a foreign government-issued passport, and a border crossing card. For a list of all accepted forms of identification, take a look here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification

Are all states in compliance with the REAL ID act?

The law’s implementation has been a long and arduous process. Many states initially balked at the idea of changing the way they conduct their business. Organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, also opposed it, arguing that it would make it easier for the federal government to track data on individuals and violate their privacy.

As of this week, most states are in compliance with the act. A few have received extensions to create REAL ID cards. They are: Maine, New Jersey, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

The Department of Homeland Security “has been working with states for years around REAL ID compliance and have provided technical assistance, grants and other support to them,” a Homeland Security official told the GBTA. “We are also providing more than two years advance notice of implementation with respect to domestic air travel to allow ample time for all states to achieve compliance, or for potential air travelers to acquire an alternate form of ID if their state does not comply with REAL ID.”

How will TSA deal with passengers without proper identification?

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, if you don’t have a REAL ID or another acceptable form of identification, you will not be able to board a flight. You will be turned away.

The Airports Council International-North America, which represents local, regional and state governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports in the United States and Canada, has raised concerns about the new law. It will take more effort for people to get REAL ID cards, the group says.

“It’s a much more intensive process in terms of paperwork to get a compliant license than a non-complaint license,” said Christopher Bidwell, senior vice president of security for ACI-NA. “That’s almost a disincentive for people to get a compliant license.”

Al Yurman, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator and aviation expert, said that in some cases, people who have recently renewed licenses may have to do so again—and in person.

“I think the traveling public is going to have a lot of aggravation,” he said.

Said TSA Administrator David Pekoske: “TSA is doing everything we can to prepare our partners and the traveling public for the REAL ID deadline next year. The security requirements of the REAL ID Act will dramatically enhance and improve commercial aviation security.”

Will there be longer airport security lines?

Perhaps. As much as Homeland Security, TSA, and other affected groups are trying to educate the public, there will still be people who will show up at the airport thinking nothing has changed.

“That’s our biggest concern, is that for individuals who are unaware of the requirement come Oct. 1, 2020, and they show up expecting to be processed through security like they’ve have been prior to that date, they’re going to be upset and reasonably so,” Bidwell said. “And that’s why we’re taking the opportunity to help educate current and would-be travelers.”

Price is not so concerned.

“I would imagine that we would see some longer lines when it finally does go into effect,” he said. “But the vast majority of states already meet the requirements and TSA already has procedures in place for passengers that do not have identification.”

Nancy Trejos is covering industry news for GBTA. She has been a journalist for more than two decades, covering various subjects and traveling all around the world. She was a business and leisure travel writer at USA TODAY from November 2012 to January 2019, writing about destinations, business travel, hotels, airlines, rental cars, and the sharing economy. Previously, she spent 13 years at The Washington Post covering travel, personal finance, education, and the war in Iraq. She is the author of the personal finance memoir "Hot Broke Messes: How to Have your Latte and Drink it Too." She has also worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press and was a contributor at Latina magazine. She graduated from Georgetown University and lives in New York City.

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