The Real ID deadline is really coming. Should airlines warn you?

Starting Oct. 1, the TSA won't accept traditional state-issued driver's licenses or ID cards to board a commercial plane. Federal law will require passengers have an enhanced driver's license or identification card, called Real ID, or a valid passport or military ID card.
(Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Four of the country’s largest airlines have begun to accept reservations to fly on or after Oct. 1, 2020, but those carriers offer little, if any, warning on their booking sites about the new security documents that will be required to board a plane after that date.

Under federal law, a traditional state-issued driver’s license or identification card won’t be accepted to board a plane. Starting Oct. 1, passengers can only fly with an enhanced identification card or drivers license — known as a Real ID — or a federally approved form of identification such as a passport or military ID.

Travel industry experts estimates that 99 million Americans currently don’t have a Real ID, passport or another valid ID, according to a survey commissioned by the U.S. Travel Assn. That means nearly 40% of American adults won’t be able to board an airline to visit family for the holidays next year.

“Imagine the novice traveler, a grandma who only travels once or twice a year,” said Tori Barnes, an executive vice president for the U.S. Travel Assn., the travel industry’s trade group. “She can’t come home to her family. It’s really going to be a significant problem.”


The nation’s travel industry has been enjoying robust growth over the last six years, with domestic travelers spending $933 billion in 2018, up nearly 6% over 2017. International travelers spent $156 billion last year, an increase of only 0.3% from 2017, according to the travel trade group.

But travel industry leaders worry that a security measure that blocks nearly four out of 10 U.S. adults from boarding commercial flights could derail that growth.

In hopes of avoiding that catastrophe, the U.S. Travel Assn. is pushing airlines to post direct warnings to travelers about the new requirement, including notices to each flier who tries to book a flight on or after Oct. 1.

Real I.D. sample.
(DMV )

American, United, Delta and Alaska have all begun to sell tickets for flights on or after Oct. 1. Other carriers, such as JetBlue and Southwest, have yet to begin booking flights that far into the future.

But United, Delta and Alaska Airlines don’t include a warning about the requirement in their online booking sites. Representatives for the three airlines say the carriers plan to post notices as the deadline gets closer.

“We will communicate more with our customers as we move towards Oct. 1,” United Airlines spokesman Charles Hobart said.

Alaska Airlines wrote about the deadline on its blog site and airline spokesman Ray Lane said the carrier plans to spread the word in the future. “Our aim is to start doing even more after we get through the holidays,” he said.


American Airlines, however, has taken a more proactive approach, adding warnings about the new security measure at several places on its website, including its booking page.

A link on the booking page, titled “ID requirements are changing” opens to another page that explains the Oct. 1 deadline for the Real ID requirement, along with another link to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security webpage with more information.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the country’s largest carriers, said airlines are trying to get the word out about the requirement through websites, in-flight magazines, social media and videos on their in-flight entertainment systems.

“We are committed to keeping up the momentum in educating the public to ensure that the 2.4 million people who travel every day will be able to flow through the system as seamlessly as possible next October,” the trade group said in a statement.


Airlines representatives say the carriers have no way of determining if a potential passenger has valid identification before selling them a ticket.

Barnes wants airlines to do more immediately rather than waiting until closer to the kickoff date. “We need to be talking about it now and throughout next year,” she said.

Ontario International Airport has posted signs in its terminals, notifying fliers about the deadline for the Real ID.
Ontario International Airport has posted signs in its terminals, notifying fliers about the deadline for the Real ID.

(Ontario International Airport)

Congress passed the Real ID act in 2005, based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, to set a nationwide standard for state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses. But the deadline to impose the changes on all 50 states has been postponed several times over the last few years.


Forty-seven of the nation’s 50 states are now issuing the enhanced identification cards and drivers licenses that comply with the new standards. The Real ID cards and license are identified with a gold or black star in the top right corner. Oregon and Oklahoma have been given extensions to comply with the law and New Jersey’s ID is under review.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a request Nov. 8 to private firms that do business with the federal government for technologies that could streamline the process for applying for a Real ID card or license. The move opens the way for development of faster application online and the potential of carrying the enhanced identification on phones.

In California, residents need to produce several forms of identification to obtain a Real ID card, including utility bills, a birth certificate, a social security card or tax forms. The state will continue to issue traditional driver’s licenses or ID cards that can be renewed by mail but those can’t be used to board a commercial plane starting Oct.1.

Department of Motor Vehicles officials say they expect a rush of Californians trying to obtain the new identification card and enhanced driver’s licenses as the Oct. 1 deadline approaches.


“We are telling folks that they need to think ahead,” DMV spokesman Jaime Garza said.

Americans who don’t have an enhanced ID card or license should take a look at the list of the required documents from the DMV website and make an appointment to present them at a DMV office, he said. A Real ID application takes about seven to 10 days to process.

“Make sure you don’t leave on a flight Sept. 28 and can’t come home after Oct. 1 because you don’t have the proper documents,” Garza said.

The Transportation Security Administration, which for months has been posting signs about the requirement at airports across the country, doesn’t plan to delay the implementation of the new requirements again, TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.


“The TSA does not encourage people to wait,” she said. “Waiting is not a good strategy.”

The worst-case scenario, said Barnes of the travel trade group, is that Americans ignore the requirements until next fall when more than 80,000 Americans who don’t have the proper identification documents show up at airports across the country to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday only to be turned away.

“Think of all the other negative impacts, not only to the airlines but to hotels and rental car agencies,” she said.