The real information you need about Real ID

Michigan, New York, and Louisiana IDs are still under review. Other states are OK ’til Oct. 2018

Real IDThere have been important changes in the status of Real ID in a number of U.S. states and territories since my last column on Real ID. There is erroneous information about Real ID on the Internet right now and some of it has been broadcast on television about air travel.

In order to ensure everyone fully understands the actual Real ID rules and status as of today, and how it affects air travelers, it’s important to briefly review the background of Real ID.

In 2005, acting on recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, Congress enacted the Real ID Act. The law established the minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and other identification cards issued by U.S. states and territories in order to increase the security of federal facilities and U.S. domestic air travel.

As of today, residents of just three U.S. states¹ and two territories have until January 21, 2018, to use their state- or territory-issued driver’s licenses to fly domestically, as their extension requests are still under review. If not granted an extension, air travelers from those states and territories will need to use a Real ID compliant state or federally issued identification to fly domestically.

Download Airplane Carry-on ChecklistThe 9/11 Commission wrote in its report, “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.” As a result, the Real ID Act requires that IDs and the process to obtain them are designed to ensure that the person using them is who the ID says they are, and that they are as difficult as possible to manipulate or counterfeit.

Real ID was supposed to be fully implemented in May, 2011. It was postponed because fewer than half the states in the U.S. would have been in compliance with Real ID by then. In 2013, under the Obama Administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced they would begin a final, phased Real ID implementation.

DHS is now in the final phase of that implementation. This phase concerns identification for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently comply with the Real ID Act. Twenty states¹ and three territories have been granted Real ID extensions.

To learn the correct status of Real ID for each U.S. state and territory for air travelers, I reached out to Mike England, national spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last week. Mr. England told me,

“Passengers from compliant states can use their IDs [state issued driver’s licenses] until Oct 2020, regardless of whether or not their IDs are the new ‘real IDs’. The states with extensions can only use their currently issued IDs until October 11, 2018.”

Unlike what some have reported, Mr. England made it clear that if your driver’s license comes from a state with a Real ID extension, you currently have only until October 11, 2018, to use it. After that, you’ll need to use a Real ID- compliant driver’s license.

Some states with current extensions may not be able to issue Real ID-compliant licenses by then. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation states, “The [PA] Real ID license and ID card will be available to customers in Spring 2019. System, building infrastructure, and process changes will be necessary for Pennsylvania to issue Real ID-compliant cards.” Air travelers using Pennsylvania driver’s licenses will have to hope the state can get a further Real ID compliance extension, or Pennsylvanians will have to use an alternate Real ID-compliant ID, such as a U.S. passport, for at least several months to fly domestically in the U.S.

Other states and U.S. territories may find they are in the same situation as Pennsylvania. They may need an additional extension, too.

According to DHS, Real ID compliance for Louisiana, Michigan, New York¹ and the territories of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands is under review. The residents of those states and territories can use their current non-compliant state- or territory-issued IDs only through January 21, 2018, unless DHS grants their state or territory an extension.

If you’re a resident of one of the states and territories under review and DHS doesn’t grant your state or territory an extension, you will have to either obtain a Real ID-compliant identification from your state or territory, if it has one, or get a federal Real ID-compliant identification such as a U.S. passport or passport card by January 21, 2018, to be able to fly on a U.S. domestic flight. (State-issued IDs and U.S. Passport Cards aren’t valid for international flights.)

I strongly suggest that if you have no Real ID-compliant identification and need to fly in the U.S. for business or leisure after January 21, and are a resident of one of the states or territories under Real ID review, that you need to apply for a Real ID-compliant identification immediately. If you’re applying for a U.S. passport or passport card, I suggest you look into using an expediting service to make sure you receive it by January 21, 2018.

¹Addendum: As of today, DHS has granted an extension to the states of Louisiana, Michigan and New York. That means that currently all U.S. states are either Real ID compliant or have an extension. Residents of states with an extension can use their non-compliant driver’s license or non-driver’s ID until October 11, 2018. The extension requests from American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are still under review.