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Real ID deadline again extended, pushed to 2025

Air travelers navigate Terminal 7 at LAX.
The Department of Homeland Security has pushed back its deadline for Real IDs for air travel by two years to May 7, 2025.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Aiming to improve security and minimize fraud in the aftermath of 9/11, especially among airline travelers, Congress in 2005 passed the Real ID Act to set federal standards for identification cards.

But 17 years later, the Real ID requirement has been delayed yet again — until 2025 — following years of funding challenges, concerns about travel interruptions and pandemic backlogs, creating repeated setbacks for the more-standardized cards.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday pushed the date by which travelers will need the new federally compliant identification card for domestic flights to May 7, 2025.

The previous deadline was May 3, 2023.

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The agency had already extended its enforcement date at least three times since the planned implementation date for the law was initially announced for October 2020.

The 24-month extension will address “the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card” after that process was “significantly hindered” by processing backlogs from the pandemic, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. Many states’ agencies extended expiration dates of driver’s licenses and identification cards due to the pandemic or shifted to appointment-only availability, the department said, which affected operations.

Just over half of all Americans with a license or identification card have obtained one that is Real ID-compliant, according to a federal review of state-provided data. Only in the last two years did all states begin issuing approved Real IDs, resolving what had long been another roadblock for the identification system.

In California, the number of people with Real IDs has grown by more than 5 million from almost two years ago. As of Monday, about 14.8 million Californians had received a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, about 43% of the total driver’s licenses and identification cards issued this year, according to the latest data from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

DMV officials noted that some people could have a driver’s license that’s not federally compliant and decide to get a Real ID identification card, creating overlap in the numbers.

Some travelers may decide to forgo a Real ID if they have another form of identification accepted by the Transportation Security Administration, such as a passport.

Real ID-compliant licenses are marked by a star on the top of the card. In California, upgraded cards also have a gold bear in the upper right corner.

The state partners with the Auto Club of Southern California to ease access.

“This extension will give states needed time to ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement Monday. “DHS will also use this time to implement innovations to make the process more efficient and accessible.”

Under the latest update, every traveler age 18 or older will need a Real ID — or another form of federally compliant identification — to get through airport security checkpoints for domestic travel beginning May 7, 2025.

Leaders in the $1.1-trillion travel industry have voiced concern over the past few years of losses if Americans are unable to board planes because they lack Real ID licenses. The U.S. Travel Assn. on Monday praised the Department of Homeland Security for its latest delay of enforcement, calling it the “right decision.”

“U.S. Travel appreciates DHS leadership for recognizing that with 100 million Americans still lacking a Real ID, now is not the time to create significant travel disruptions,” Tori Emerson Barnes, the trade group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said in a statement. “This delay helps to give travelers the time necessary to get the credential needed to fly domestically.”

In May, 137 million Real IDs had been issued across the U.S., making up about 49% of identification cards in circulation, according to the travel association. Compliance was increasing by about half a percent per month, the association said. More recent numbers weren’t immediately available.

Real ID is not required for drivers, and air passengers still need a passport to travel internationally.

In California, a Real ID costs $39, the same price as a driver’s license that is not federally compliant.


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