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Yes, TSA is still getting confused by ‘District of Columbia’ driver’s licenses

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) says a D.C. resident nearly missed her flight after airport security officers at Newark Liberty International Airport questioned whether her “District of Columbia” ID was valid. Norton called the episode “humiliating.” (Mel Evans/AP)

Just in time for the peak holiday travel season, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is issuing a not-so-friendly reminder to Transportation Security Administration officers.

Yes, the District of Columbia is a real place. Yes, it’s in the United States. And yes, D.C. residents can use their D.C. driver’s licenses to travel through airport security.

In a letter sent to TSA Administrator David Pekoske this week, Norton said she was dismayed to learn that D.C. residents are still encountering problems at airport security using their licenses to board domestic flights.

She described the latest episode as “humiliating.”

According to Norton’s letter, a D.C. resident was stopped in the TSA line at Newark Liberty International Airport at Thanksgiving.

“The TSO [transportation security officer] refused to accept her District license as a valid form of ID,” Norton said. “It is my understanding that other TSOs came over and discussed whether it was valid before letting her through, although the resident nearly missed her flight as a result.”

Mishaps related to the District’s licenses first arose in 2013, after the design of the ID cards were changed from saying “Washington, D.C.” to “District of Columbia.” The alteration was made so the design of the licenses would conform with the official, charter-enshrined name of the District.

Since then, TSA agents charged with checking passengers’ IDs have occasionally rejected the cards featuring the new design. At times, those agents appeared unaware that “District of Columbia” was the origin of the “D.C.” abbreviation.

July 2014: Oh, the indignities that D.C. must bear: TSA agent asks for D.C. man’s passport to board flight from Orlando to Washington

In her letter on Wednesday, Norton requested that TSA managers remind their staff that the licenses bearing “District of Columbia” are a valid form of identification.

“As I’m sure you can imagine,” Norton added, “it can be humiliating for a U.S. citizen to be delayed because a federal government employee does not recognize the name of the District of Columbia.”

The Homeland Security Department is asking airlines and airports to increase passenger screening and vetting for U.S.-bound flights or face consequences. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

On Thursday, a TSA spokesman said agency officials have re-upped the notifications to ensure that D.C. ID-bearers aren’t turned away in airports.

“TSA will continue to work with Congresswoman Holmes-Norton about her concerns and reminders have been distributed to officers,” the spokesman said.

But it’s not just airport security officers who have gotten confused by seeing the District’s full moniker.

Last year, several Washingtonians reported that they were not allowed to purchase beer at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, because vendors mistakenly believed the identifications hailed from a foreign country. (It’s unclear whether they were confusing “Columbia” with “Colombia,” the nation in Latin America.)

The ongoing complications with the District of Columbia licenses is part of the reason that, earlier this year, D.C. officials decided to return to using “Washington, D.C.” as the primary identifier on District-issued IDs.

“The administration determined ‘Washington, D.C.’ better represents the city and will reduce confusion in other jurisdictions,” District Department of Motor Vehicles director Lucinda Babers said at the time.

When the about-face decision was announced, Norton expressed sympathy for the TSA agents grappling with the bait-and-switch.

“Poor things; they are going to have to be untrained now,” Norton said in April. “I have a feeling that Washington, D.C., is such a familiar name that it won’t cause the same confusion. At least, I hope not.”

April 2017: Order your beer in peace: D.C. licenses will no longer say ‘District of Columbia’