Starting Oct. 1, every U.S. air traveler will be required to present a Real ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification, such as a U.S. passport, to board a domestic flight. This is the last phase of implementation of the federal law.
With only 10 months for the change to take effect, less than a third of driver’s license holders have a compliant license, according to data compiled by the federal government. That low number concerns federal and state officials and travel industry leaders who fear millions could be turned away at airports next fall. State-issued identification is the most commonly used credential at airport security checkpoints.
A DHS spokesman said the agency “intends to proceed as quickly as possible to implement any viable proposals for streamlining the REAL ID issuance process.”
“The Department is interested in ideas and technologies that could allow applicants to submit their required documents electronically to the DMV in addition to, or possibly in lieu of, applying in person,” the spokesman said.
The U.S. Travel Association and other industry groups have been urging DHS to modernize the application process to make it easier for states and residents. Without upgrades, the groups say, tens of thousands of people could be unprepared to board a flight come October, and even more next Thanksgiving. More inexperienced travelers tend to fly during the holidays.
Tori Emerson Barnes, vice president of public affairs and policy at the travel association, said the group is encouraged by DHS’s consideration of options to automate the application process. The group recently called on the agency to eliminate the in-person application requirement to help reduce backlogs at motor vehicle administration offices.
“It is a much different security and technology landscape now than when Congress passed the act in 2005, and as a result there are real opportunities to make the Real ID application process much more efficient, while truly enhancing security,” Emerson Barnes said.
She said allowing people to submit the necessary paperwork online, in addition to a beefed-up public awareness campaign, would speed the rate of Real ID compliance and mitigate challenges at overburdened DMVs and MVAs next year.
“Travelers need to be cognizant now that at this time next year, they won’t be able to fly if they don’t have a Real ID or a passport. We don’t want millions to be turned away,” Emerson Barnes said.
As the busy holiday travel season kicks off this week with Thanksgiving, federal authorities and travel groups are redoubling efforts to get the message out about the impending deadline and urging people not to wait until the last minute.
The Transportation Security Administration has signs, as have airports, reminding passengers of the deadline. Some states are running ads to alert fliers.
As of this month, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories have committed to complying with all Real ID requirements, federal officials said. DHS has sent reminder letters about the October deadline to all governors and the D.C. mayor and to all members of Congress, and has requested that states provide monthly updates on their Real ID issuance data, the agency said.
Most states, however, are still in the early phases of issuing the new security-enhanced licenses and identification cards, which are generally identifiable by a star in the upper-right corner.
States have reported that only 27 percent of all driver’s license holders have been issued Real IDs, Patricia Cogswell, acting deputy administrator for the TSA, said last month.
“We strongly urge travelers to take action as soon as possible and ensure they are ready well before the deadline,” Cogswell said.
Passengers who do not have a Real ID license come October will be able to board a plane using a U.S. passport, a passport card, a military ID, a permanent resident card and other options such as a Global Entry traveler card.
Research by the U.S. Travel Association this fall found an estimated 99 million citizens do not have a Real ID license or passport. Even more troubling, the group said, a majority of Americans — 57 percent — were not aware that beginning Oct. 1, they would need a Real ID license to board a flight.
To obtain one of the new licenses, applicants must present two proofs of residency, such as an utility bill and a bank statement; proof of identity and legal residence in the United States; and a Social Security card. A W-2 form listing a Social Security number is an acceptable alternative to a Social Security card. The process requires an in-person visit to a DMV office, even for those who have been licensed for decades.
An online process to submit documentation for the Real ID, advocates say, would help mitigate challenges next year.
DHS is receiving proposals for an automated option through Dec. 9. Officials say the agency will consider whether any can be implemented immediately or would require regulatory or statutory changes. The government says it would consider proposals that protect privacy and prevent fraud and identity theft.
Even if DHS makes some changes to the application process, the message officials are sending is that people should not wait. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the holiday season is the perfect time to get started.
“On Black Friday, go shopping for holiday gifts for friends and family. Then, in the days ahead, focus on getting yourself a gift,” Farbstein said. “Go get your Real ID. Get it before the holidays when people are focused on shopping, and it is not as likely to be as busy at the local DMV.”