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America’s Travelers Aren’t Ready for REAL ID

Roger Dow

You’ve checked your wallet for your ID. You’ve confirmed your departure time and have your boarding pass in hand. But when you get to the airport, you are told that you’re unable to clear the security checkpoint, causing a missed flight and a crucial meeting or event. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and it may soon become a reality for thousands of air travelers in America.

Here’s why: On October 1, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will implement the final phase of REAL ID enforcement, requiring Americans to present a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or another acceptable form of ID (such as a passport or passport card, U.S. military ID, enhanced driver’s license or a DHS trusted traveler card) to get through airport security. This change has been in the works since Congress first passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, which required every state to issue driver’s licenses that meet certain security standards and prohibited the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from accepting any non-REAL ID licenses at airport security checkpoints.

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But 14 years later and one year out from the final phase of enforcement, America is still not ready for REAL ID.

A survey commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found that more than 182 million Americans either do not have a REAL ID driver’s license or they’re unsure if they do, and less than half (42 percent) of Americans are even aware of the October 2020 deadline—that includes even the most seasoned travelers. If REAL ID were implemented today, it is estimated that 78,500 travelers would be turned away at airport security on the first day, costing the economy more than $40.3 million in lost travel spending on that day alone.

Turning thousands of passengers away will not only ruin individuals’ travel plans—it will cause extended wait times at TSA checkpoints, hurt businesses and cost the U.S. economy millions in lost traveler spending.

So, how do we solve this problem?

U.S. Travel launched an education initiative for private-sector stakeholders to help the public sector spread the word to the traveling public about the October 1, 2020 REAL ID deadline. We are also working with our member organizations to help deliver the message straight to their customers. The education campaign provides crucial information on how to determine if a driver’s license is REAL ID-compliant and how to get a REAL ID or an acceptable alternative.

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Every American—regardless of how often they travel—should take a look at their driver’s license right now and determine if it is REAL ID-compliant. The easiest way to tell if a driver’s license is in fact a REAL ID is to check for a star in the upper right-hand corner on the front of the license. If a star doesn’t appear on a traveler’s driver’s license, they will most likely need to visit the DMV and apply for a REAL ID or an acceptable alternative. Taking a little time today to get REAL ID ready will ensure travelers don’t miss an important trip or meeting when the deadline rolls around next October.

Despite best efforts, it’s unlikely that public education on its own will ensure America is completely ready for REAL ID come next October. Moreover, it won’t be enough to send the entire country to the DMV. Some U.S. states and territories are still not issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses. Even in compliant states, many licenses do not expire until after the deadline, so residents may decide not to get a new license until it’s up for renewal.

To mitigate airport chaos and ensure America transitions smoothly into REAL ID enforcement, U.S. Travel has also outlined several policy recommendations. REAL ID represented the most secure form of identification when it was conceived in 2005, but technology has advanced in major ways since the law was passed. America now has even stronger forms of identity verification and security and can leverage automated facial matching technology and programs like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. There is a huge opportunity to make sure these programs and technologies are equivalent to getting a REAL ID. This would not only improve security, but it would modernize the systems the agency sought to strengthen with REAL ID 14 years ago.

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The deadline is closer than you think. Every American should take the steps right now to check that their driver’s license is REAL ID-compliant, and if not, make plans to visit their state’s DMV as soon as possible. In the meantime, U.S. Travel and our partners will continue working to bring down the number of Americans who have yet to obtain a valid identification for air travel beginning next October.

REAL ID enforcement is coming—let’s make sure we are all prepared.

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