The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Real ID requirement for air travel delayed, again

Americans will have until May 2025 to obtain a Real ID driver’s license or identification card, the latest of several delays

Travelers wait to go through a security checkpoint at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago just before Thanksgiving. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
4 min

Americans will have two more years to obtain a Real ID driver’s license or identification card, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.

U.S. air travelers will be required to present the Real ID credential to board a domestic flight beginning May 7, 2025. Before Monday’s announcement, implementation had been scheduled to take effect next May.

Postponing enforcement of the last phase of the Real ID Act will give motor vehicle departments across the country more time to process the new credentials, but will come 17 years after the changes initially were to be in place. States have reported that progress on the Real ID program was hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The law, which set minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and ID cards issued by states after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, originally was to take effect in 2008. About half of Americans with a license or state identification card have a Real ID-compliant document, generally identifiable by a star in the upper-right corner.

In announcing the new deadline, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday that the 24-month extension will give states more time as they move forward during the pandemic.

“DHS will also use this time to implement innovations to make the process more efficient and accessible,” he said. “We will continue to ensure that the American public can travel safely.”

States begin final push for compliance as Real ID deadline nears

Each state, D.C. and five U.S. territories have committed to complying with Real ID requirements, federal officials say. DHS has extended the implementation multiple times, most recently postponing an Oct. 1, 2021, deadline to May 3, 2023, to give states more time amid pandemic-related lags at motor vehicle branches.

But as of May this year, compliance rates were still concerning to some travel groups, which had been urging another extension. About 137 million Real IDs had been issued nationwide at that time, which is about 49 percent of state-issued IDs in circulation, according to federal data obtained through the U.S. Travel Association. The compliance rate had been increasing by about 0.5 percentage points each month, data shows.

Several travel and airport groups worried that implementation next year would lead to confusion and chaotic scenarios at U.S. airports, as noncompliant air travelers would be turned away from boarding domestic aircraft. Although the Transportation Security Administration accepts other forms of Real ID, such as a U.S. passport, none are as ubiquitous as a standard driver’s license.

“This extension will allow individuals more time to obtain compliant identification, helping to prevent undue travel disruptions and preserving the health of the aviation system as we continue to navigate the pandemic’s impacts on global air travel,” said Kevin M. Burke, North America president of the Airports Council International.

The U.S. Travel Association, which had been advocating for a Real ID extension, said in a statement that moving the deadline is “the right decision” to prevent significant travel disruptions.

“This delay helps to give travelers the time necessary to get the credential needed to fly domestically,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the travel association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy. “It remains critical that DHS identify ways to modernize identification standards to make the entire travel process more efficient.”

Congress passed the Real ID Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Eighteen of the 19 hijackers had obtained state IDs, some fraudulently.

Under the law, states are required to increase the security of licenses by requiring applicants to provide proof of identity and legal U.S. residency. States also must use counterfeit-resistant security features on the IDs.

Barring future delays, starting on May 7, 2025, every U.S. air traveler 18 and older will be required to present a Real ID-compliant license or another form of identification to board a flight. Other acceptable IDs include a U.S. passport, a passport card, a military ID, a permanent resident card or other options such as a Global Entry traveler card.