The real deal on REAL ID: What you need to know about your driver license and airport security

Over the past year or so, you probably heard that your standard driver license soon might not be good enough to get you through security checkpoints at the airport. There was even a looming deadline of Jan. 22, 2018 that had a lot of us taking notice and wondering what it all means.

Well, there’s good news.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently approved extension requests for a new batch of states as it relates to the REAL ID Act, including Alaska, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The extensions were needed because standard driver licenses are not in line with federal requirements.

The big takeaway: Passengers will still be able to use their regular state driver licenses and ID cards for air travel for another year – at least through October 2018. There’s no need to rush out and do anything, like getting an enhanced driver license.

No need to panic: Extension granted

DHS has also indicated states that have been granted an extension will not be subject to REAL ID enforcement at airports until October 2020, as long as – and here’s an important part – they continue to make satisfactory progress toward compliance or become compliant.

“This extension gives Washington residents about three more years to decide if they will need a new type of identification. Many already have acceptable federal identification,” says Washington State Department of Licensing Director Pat Kohler.

Each state is doing what it needs to do to move toward compliance, with six states still under review for a renewed REAL ID extension. (This map shows you each state’s status.)

Washington state, for example, expects to be in full compliance with the REAL ID Act by fall 2018. At that point, the state’s Department of Licensing will apply for the October 2020 enforcement date, meaning standard licenses and IDs should still be accepted for air travel for another two years, from October 2018 to October 2020.

So breathe a little easier. No need to panic. But if you need to renew your driver license soon, and you prefer using a license as your ID when you travel (instead of another ID such as your passport), you might want to consider upgrading to an enhanced license. It could save you from scrambling later on.

Questions and Answers

I have a standard Washington state license. What do I need to get on a domestic flight right now? 

Just your driver license, either standard or enhanced. (Or you can use a variety of other federally-approved forms of identification, found here.)

Will my standard license work on domestic flights next year?

Yes, your standard driver license is acceptable through October 2018, and most likely until October 2020 as long as DHS is satisfied with the progress your ID-issuing state is making with the REAL ID Act.

So when do the rules actually change?

Currently, the DHS has indicated the enforcement of the REAL ID Act starts in October 2020. At that point, standard driver licenses issued by some states – such as Washington – will not be accepted by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at U.S. airports. TSA will accept enhanced driver licenses, since they have established your identity and U.S. citizenship.

My driver license is from a state that’s currently noncompliant and has not yet received an extension. What does that mean?

Starting on Jan. 22, 2018, passengers who have a standard driver license issued by a state that’s not yet compliant with REAL ID and has not received a government extension will need to show an alternate form of approved identification for domestic flying, such as a passport or military ID. The TSA website has more details. As of October 2017, six states were still under review for a renewed extension: Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Rhode Island.

So what happens in October 2020 if I show up at the airport with my standard driver license as my only ID?

You’ll be turned away and not allowed to go through a TSA checkpoint if you don’t have another form of approved identification. And you’ll miss your flight.

I live in Washington. How do I find out about getting an enhanced driver license?

Each state’s Department of Licensing or Motor Vehicles agency handles that. For Washington state residents, you can learn more here.

Am I required to get an enhanced driver license?

Not at all. Residents will have a choice of which license they want. They’re not required to get the enhanced licenses. But changes are coming. Starting in summer 2018 in Washington, the state’s newly-issued standard licenses will be marked to indicate they are not REAL ID compliant. That ID will not be acceptable for air travel starting in October 2020. You’d need an enhanced license or other approved type of ID.

Refresh my memory. What exactly is the REAL ID Act?

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 in an effort to strengthen identification rules at airports. The act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver licenses. Under the law, state driver licenses and ID cards have to be issued only to people who can prove they are legally living in the United States. If state licenses don’t meet the standards, then federal agencies – such as the TSA – will not accept them.

4 Comments on “The real deal on REAL ID: What you need to know about your driver license and airport security

  1. Since WA State has received an extension, does that mean that a WA Resident can also fly into/out of States that are already compliant, or States that haven’t yet received an extension?

  2. This seemed to only talk about Washington. How does this effect Alaska please.

  3. “The big takeaway: Passengers will still be able to use their regular state driver licenses and ID cards for air travel for another year – at least through October 2018. ”
    Alaska is good until at least Oct. 10, 2018.
    Your current ID is good for travel through then and possibly longer since Alaska is working towards compliance, they will likely extend past that date later. Don’t worry, when traveling through states who aren’t compliant, your ID (Alaska, Washington, CA, OR, and Idaho) is still accepted throughout the US on its extension until October. Safe and happy travels!

  4. I’m curious. Most TSA agents have accepted my Alaska Airlines Company ID for passing through security checkpoints, but sometimes they ask for my driver’s license. Will our Company IDs be accepted as ID for TSA after the new rules are in effect? Are any changes to our Company ID coming that will possibly make them acceptable forms of ID?

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