Here’s How the Real ID Act Impacts Travelers

Stacey Ebert

Travel. What used to be accompanied by fancy dress and white glove service is today filled with disrobing at security, giant lines, and rules that seem to change on a dime. Don’t get me wrong, being able to afford to travel isn’t something to take for granted. But it seems, with each passing day, gathering the information necessary to for inspection prior to boarding is getting more and more tedious. And now there’s the Real ID Act to worry about.

Even the airlines are still trying to work out the details of how this thing is going to impact their world. There are still kinks in the system, information changing hands, and signs beginning to arrive at major airports around the United States. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Let’s unravel the confusing, sift through the fine print, and figure out the minutiae together. 

What is the Real ID Act?

The Real ID Act of 2005 expresses that federal agencies (including the TSA – that handles airport security) are not allowed to accept ‘certain of driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards’. The act, which was passed by Congress twelve years ago, endorsed the recommendation, stemming from the 9/11 Commission’s suggestion, that the US Federal Government maintain a uniform standard across the states for issuing identifications.

Designed to set up minimum security standards for things like driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by states, the REAL ID Act forbids Federal agencies from having to accept those licenses and ID cards (for official reasons) from any states that don’t meet the standards. The idea is to have a more secure, streamlined and uniform system of identification and the same for the security that goes on behind the process of making those identifications.

Why is the Real ID Act Happening?

Based on suggestions from the 9/11 Commission report findings, the United States is taking aim at creating more secure identifications across all fifty states. The roll out of this 2005 Congressional Act will begin to take effect in the coming months and all protocols will officially be triggered as of the 22nd of January, 2018.

Best suggestion – Apply for those passports and passport cards now so you know you have approved federal identification for your next flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, or Los Angeles to San Diego.

How are States Affected?

At the moment, according to the DHS site, as of the 22nd of January 2018, all fifty states – including the District of Columbia – are either fully compliant (shown on the map in green) or have been provided with an extension (shown on the map in yellow). 

The fully compliant states are:

New Mexico
South Dakota

West Virginia

Washington DC (even though it’s not a state)

How do States Become Approved?

The process for states to meet those minimum requirements is a stringent one. Some states may have difficulty meeting the requirements as there are those with concerns of privacy issues and any change in the process of creating those licenses might have to make it past a state legislature.

In order to become fully compliant, states MUST:

  • Be able to verify the identification of all those applying for the licenses/identifications
  • Ensure they instill anti-counterfeiting technology in each of the licenses and the technique behind creating those identifications
  • Guarantee that background checks are done regularly for those people and institutions that issue the licenses/identifications

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. If a state is able to change their process and prove that all of the requirements have been and will continue to be met, there is the possibility of an extension (like many states presently have through October of 2017) or full removal from the ‘naughty list’. 

Are There Deadlines?

The roll out timetable (which was initially announced at the end of 2013) of the REAL ID Act began to be implemented by Homeland Security in January of 2016. The general public will begin to see signage of all things related to the REAL ID Act in the very near future – it’s already popping up at some major airports.

That magic date of the 22nd of January 2018 is for passengers with those identifications from states still not compliant and those travelers will DEFINITELY need an ALTERNATE form of ID to board domestic flights. Those from states that are compliant can use their state IDs as usual.

October 1, 2020 is the final date by which EVERY air traveler will NEED a REAL-ID Act compliant license or MUST have another acceptable form of federally recognized identification in order to board a domestic flight.

How Does the Real ID Act Affect Travelers?

Armed with information and know how – travelers can easily manage this new security step. In order to make life simple, follow this easy principle – have passport, will travel.

Regardless of whether or not you are aware of your state’s level of compliance, you will be able to board any domestic flight (regardless of from where or to you’re traveling) if you have a federally approved and valid identification.

Sure, if you’re in an affected state, you can wait to see if the level of compliance changes, but if you don’t have one of those federally approved IDs, you won’t be able to travel domestically if the details haven’t changed prior to your travel date. If you can wait, great, but keep in mind that, under normal circumstances, passports take about 6-8 weeks from application to arrival date and with so many people being forced to apply for one in order to travel domestically, that time will more than likely increase.

If your state isn’t affected, your license is good to go. No matter where your license is from, by 2020, all travelers MUST have a fully compliant REAL ID in order to board domestic aircrafts and use in all other official capacity.

Why Real ID & What Else Does it Affect?

The sole purpose of this congressional legislation is to make the state identification process in the United States more uniform and secure. There’s no national database being compiled and your identity is not in jeopardy. As of January 22, 2018, if your state is neither compliant nor has an extension granted, you will either HAVE to present another form of federally approved identification or you will not be entitled to fly. As of October of 2020, everyone will need a Real ID compliant identification or another federally acceptable form of ID in order to board a domestic flight.

Here’s the weird bit, state participation is VOLUNTARY, but federal agencies (like the well-known TSA) are not allowed to accept non-REAL ID compliant state identification for any official purpose which means boarding domestic flights for air travel, entrance to nuclear power plants, or allowing entrance or access to any federal facilities – like military bases).

Find Out More

My husband flew on the 10th of July (the date of the end of the grace period for any state whose extension expired on the 6th of June this year). We called the airline to double check and customer service directed me to the DHS websites to check the compliance status of our state. Customer service said that we were the second phone call in a few days regarding the REAL ID Act, but that for the best, most detailed and up-to-date information, head over to the Department of Homeland Security to access details. Further questions can be addressed in the frequently asked questions section or anyone is able to call the TSA Contact Center at (866) 289-9673 or email ( for a written response.


There’s nothing scary about the REAL ID Act of 2005. The main goal is a streamlined, secure identification system for all of the fifty states, but as with anything else – change can sometimes be difficult and messy.

Public implementation will start to take effect in early 2018 and go full throttle in 2020.

If you tend to use your state license as a means of identification for air travel, be sure to find out more or to be safe – wherever you roam – bring your passport. Safe travels.

  • Do your research
  • Check out where your state falls in the level of compliance
  • Apply for a federally approved identification far in advance of any domestic or international travels
  • By October 1, 2020, be sure you have a REAL ID Act approved license or an alternative federally approved identification