Everything You Think You Know About New ID Requirements to Fly Next Year is Wrong

There was media hysteria four years ago when TSA was telling people that their drivers licenses wouldn’t be good at airport security if they lived in one of several states. At the time I said it was bunk, and indeed that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

TSA raised the alarms several times after that. For instance media started taking TSA claims that people wouldn’t be allowed to fly in January 2018.

The TSA has once again been warning passengers that their drivers licenses may not be accepted at security checkpoints starting in October 1, 2020. It’s being covered broadly, for instance here is The Points Guy,

The TSA has started a public campaign to encourage travelers to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or other acceptable form of identification, to fly within the US by October 1, 2020. Those who try to travel without an approved REAL ID will not be allowed to pass through TSA checkpoints to catch their flights.

Both the claim that the relevant date is October 1, and that you won’t be allowed to pass through TSA checkpoints without a REAL ID-compliant ID, are inaccurate.

The first three things to know:

  1. An inability to get a compliant ID only affects residents of 4 states and 2 U.S. territories
  2. October 1 isn’t even the relevant date for residents of any of those states and territories
  3. If any state or territory is considered non-compliant this fall there will likely be another extension.

What IDs are Required ‘By October 2020’ And Why?

Why does TSA say that ‘Real ID compliant IDs’ will be required by October 2020?

  • The ‘Real ID’ act sets out conditions for what IDs will be accepted at federal facilities. Since the TSA is a federal agency, that means airport security too.

  • No state is actually fully compliant with all of the requirements of the act. Some have been deemed compliant by the Department of Homeland Security. Others have been granted extensions.

  • TSA keeps announcing that residents of states that have neither will not be able to use their drivers licenses at airport security come the next arbitrary date DHS has set.

What is a REAL ID Compliant License?

A ‘real ID compliant’ license has to have a person’s full legal name, signature, date of birth, gender, a unique identifying number, home address, and a front-facing photo. There are also specific anti-counterfeiting measures that must be used, and rules on providing the data on the card in a standard machine-readable format.

Prior to issuing a ‘real ID compliant’ license, a state has to require:

  • A photo ID (they make you present a photo ID to get a photo ID..) or ID that includes full name and birth date
  • Documentation of birth date (usually a birth certificate)
  • Proof of legal status (you’re not an illegal alient) and social security number (something you didn’t even have to have when I was born)
  • Documentation of your residential address

States are required to share data in a searchable database that the federal government hasn’t built yet, so no state could be technically compliant even though DHS says more than half of states are.

If Your Drivers License Isn’t Real ID Complaint You Can Still Fly

Anyone can use a passport instead, or proceed through security without ID by answering challenge questions to confirm their identity.

Very Few States and Territories are an Issue

DHS bullies states into complying by threatening to refuse travel to their citizens, but continues to back down. I predicted they would back down before the Presidential election in 2016 and they did. They’ve continued to back down since. Nonetheless most states have made enough progress for DHS to deem them compliant.

Here’s the Department of Homeland Security map showing the status of each state and territory:

All states and territories have been deemed compliant except Maine; New Jersey; Oklahoma; Oregon; American Samoa; Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. As long as you don’t live in one of those states you just need a most-current version of your license to proceed through TSA unmolested unimpeded.

Each of these has extensions through October 10, 2020 except for the Mariana Islands which only has an extension through February 28, 2020. If they aren’t given another extension then presumably TSA will start rejecting their licenses much earlier than October. For everyone else October 1 is an irrelevant date.

In any case I think we can confidently predict that the federal government will back down again rather than start denying travel en masse to citizens one month before the next Presidential election as well (unless all states obtain waivers or are deemed compliant by then).

Why Are IDs Demanded at Security Checkpoints in the First Place?

ID checks began as security theater after TWA flight 800, President Clinton asked for things he could announce right away. Airlines used to ask for ID to make sure the person traveling was the one that bought the ticket, solely to restrict the resale market for airfare in order to support revenue management systems that increased the price of travel closer to departure (to prevent people from buying tickets cheap and reselling them as travel dates approached — still undercutting the airline’s price). Now the government does the airline’s work for them, ostensibly for security but a determined terrorist (the TSA has never caught a single one) doesn’t have much problem flying with fake documents.

The ‘security purpose’ of ID checks is to try to force people to fly under their real names, so that those names can be checked against the government’s highly flawed watch and do not fly lists. Anyone on such a list, intent on committing a terrorist act, would simply choose not to fly under their own name.

Those lists of course impose substantial burdens on the right to travel.

  • People get added to the ‘do not fly list’ without any due process proceeding
  • It’s not necessary to commit any disqualifying acts to be on that list (they’re pre-crime profiling: mere suspicion that someone might do something in the future)
  • You cannot confront your accuser
  • There’s almost no meaningful and timely redress procedures

Americans now have to show their papers to travel, even inside their own country. Did you know that passports weren’t required for even a lot of international travel until very recently?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My wife and I attempted to get “real ID” compliant licenses. We had recently moved so didn’t have a current utility bill. My wife went online and filled out the application before visiting the DMV. She showed up armed with a current license, a passport, a pay stub, an old cardboard social security card and the declarations page of our insurance policy. She got rejected because they wanted to see the entire insurance policy, not just the page that has her name and current address. She gave up and got a regular id. I mocked her, then made my own trip to the DMV armed with all of the above including the entire insurance policy and the US Postal Service change of address packet, but forgot my old, un-laminated, photo-less, cardboard social security card. I got rejected as well for not having it. I said, “but I brought my passport.” Response: “That just proves that you are a United States citizen.” Huh!?!?! I returned the next day with an old piece of cardboard and got the real ID.

  2. First step to a police state.

    In any case, I have a GE ID and a Passport card, which will let me fly.

    So I am not planning to get a Real ID New York State Drivers license until they make me.

  3. “Those lists of course impose substantial burdens on the right to travel….” Hard to believe it is constitutional either.

  4. Gary,

    So you are a germaphobe, uncomfortable with airport screening images and now a privacy zealot. Seriously what is the problem? I plan to have one and also ensure my wife and kids are compliant well before Oct 2020. We all have passports but this is a reasonable step that will sync w our drivers licenses.

    Also for the person asking it it is constitutional there is no right to fly. Government can set any rule they want. You can drive or take other transportation if you prefer. Also this is also needed to access any government building so you could be held in contempt for not showing up if selected for Federal jury duty

    Again no big deal. Gary must be a slow day for you to stir the pot unless you are really that paranoid.

  5. I filled out the Real ID California DMV form and arrived with all the proper docs and got my REAL ID within 2 hours of my arrival into the building. The problem for me started afterwards. Back in 2018 at the DMV you had to fill out a poorly written form on a screen about registering to vote. I asked for assistance and got it and then for the next month which was the month of May prior to the California June primary vote I received 4 voter registration forms. FOUR!

    First one had me affiliated with a party I was a member, then next three had me as a DTS. I called up the Registrar of Voters and decried the problem. They put the blame squarely on the DMV software. I did vote and it wasn’t for a single Democrats already in Sacramento. Disfunction, untrustworthy and lawless is our state.

  6. I just stopped by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety booth at the State Fair. They have booklets explaining the ID situation in Minnesota. Licenses issued since last fall, bearing a gold star, are Real ID complaint. Enhanced Licenses, bearing an American flag, are also Real ID compliant, regardless of when they were issued. Older MN licenses are not Real ID compliant and will not be valid for flight next October, unless the federal government grants another extension.

  7. @AC “Also for the person asking it it is constitutional there is no right to fly.”

    That’s simply absurd. There’s a fairly well-established right to travel. And “You can drive or take other transportation if you prefer” is no longer compelling because even Amtrak shares data with CBP and TSA will descend upon any transportation it wishes.

  8. @Gary

    No it’s not absurd. There simply is no constitutional right to *fly*.

    And your arguments come pretty close to asserting that because no security measure is 100% effective, therefore we should have none whatsoever. I don’t think I’d return to an era where there were no ID checks, no metal detectors, no baggage scans, no bomb sniffing dogs, you get the drift.

    I’ve worked at airports as ground staff. I know where the security risks are. I know how to beat some of them. And you know what? We’re still safer on average with flawed security measures than we are with none. Do some go too far? The liquids rule probably does.

    From a legal standpoint, I’m much more concerned about rental car companies requiring people to be at least 21 to rent a car.

  9. Seems map is wrong. Supposedly only 4 states not Real ID compliant but map doesn’t show them. In any rate, I guess just to be safe, as a resident of Virginia, I’ll take my passport with me on internal flights. Not that big a deal.

  10. License expires after 2020 and don’t want to spend money or wait in line at DMV?

    Use your passport or Global Entry card.

    Problem solved*

    *assuming there isn’t another extension, which likely there will be

  11. Amendment 5: Bill of Rights.
    “- Protection of Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property
    No person shall be…..be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

    To deprive someone of the freedom to fly on a plane though some secret administrative process seems like a violation of the 5th amendment to me.

  12. @Dan, that’s not my argument at all, there are very effective security measures, adding reinforced cockpit doors for instance made plenty of sense. There likely aren’t any active terrorist threats against aviation but we should still be vigilant. ID checks likely don’t do much of anything at all to promote safety.

    But where do you asset the constitutional authority to limit flying comes from? If a US citizen is in Japan, there’s certainly a right to return to their home country, does it burden that right to require them to take a boat or swim?

  13. US citizens still aren’t required to have a Social Security number (even as having one makes things a whole lot simpler for good and bad purposes).

    I still see US passports being issued to US citizens — from the age of a few weeks old to teenagers to adults — without SSA numbers. There are still US citizens being born whose parents don’t apply for SSNs for the US citizen children and may live life for many years without a SSN.

  14. >>>From a legal standpoint, I’m much more concerned about rental car companies requiring people to be at least 21 to rent a car.<<<

    Here is where readers know someone is just using the anonymity of the internet to write absurd gibberish.

    The 21-to-rent rule is a decision a private company made about use of company owned property. There is absolutely no "legal standpoint" to be concerned about.

    It is nothing like the alleged realID-to-fly rule, which is being imposed on citizens by a government agency. Legally, the two situations are not analogous at all.

    As Gary mentioned, "here is a list of old IDs the TSA does not accept" is not the same as "you must get a real ID" but the TSA repeatedly and deliberately implies that it is the same.

  15. “There is no constitutional right to fly”.

    wow, a constitutional lawyer wannabe in our midst.

    too bad you’re wrong:

    Current US Code addresses air travel specifically. In 49 U.S.C. § 40103, “Sovereignty and use of airspace”, the Code specifies that “A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace.”

    so that’s the current US code (law). the constitutional law supporting it can be found in numerous cases that date back to the articles of confederation. the latest ruling:
    The U.S. Supreme Court also dealt with the right to travel in the case of Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999). In that case, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, held that the United States Constitution protected three separate aspects of the right to travel among the states:

    (1) the right to enter one state and leave another (an inherent right with historical support from the Articles of Confederation),

    (2) the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger (protected by the “Privileges and Immunities” clause in Article IV, § 2), and

    (3) (for those who become permanent residents of a state) the right to be treated equally to native-born citizens (this is protected by the 14th Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause; citing the majority opinion in the Slaughter-House Cases, Justice Stevens said, “the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . has always been common ground that this Clause protects the third component of the right to travel.”).

    here Is a long summary about the right to move unmolested within the borders from Cornell Law School (IV). probably a better source than you or me.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan/amendment-14/section-1/the-right-to-travel

  16. Seems to me the California FEHA, which regulates age discrimination in public service and commerce prohibits refusal to rent a car based on age, but does NOT prohibit charging a different rate to old or young drivers. So it’s not pure laissez afire “private transaction, tough luck” in our state.

  17. So to open an old trope from the Vietnam era. I am against any discrimination to people 18 years old to 20 years old. If you are old enough to be drafted to go to war, you are old enough to be a full citizen, including the right to buy a drink. You should also be allowed to rent a car. Period.

  18. Is there some dispute as to the legality of requiring ID to fly commercial? All constitutional rights have limits. Republicans have enacted or seek to enact state laws requiring photo IDs to vote. It seems requiring ID to travel meets the appropriate constitutional standard for limiting the right to travel to the extent any such a constitutional right exists. Surely by now some have tested this requirement and “no fly” lists in court. If anyone seriously doubts the legality of these restrictions , the ACLU phone number is ….

  19. According to a CNN article (12/5/15): Obama said: “”Right now, people on the No-Fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun,” he said in his weekly address. “And so I’m calling on Congress to close this loophole, now. We may not be able to prevent every tragedy, but — at a bare minimum — we shouldn’t be making it so easy for potential terrorists or criminals to get their hands on a gun that they could use against Americans.””

    Secret lists created by shadowy characters with questionable motives is no way to determine whether someone’s rights should be respected. This is a really slippery slope.

    LOL: Potentially, people that post on a travel website that complains about the big three airlines will be put on a secret no fly list. No way to stop them or even know what they are doing, since the list is secret.

  20. @dan scolnick

    If you’re pretending to be a lawyer, you’re doing a bad job at it. Your Cornell link at the bottom doesn’t have any direct reference to air travel. The only thing remotely relevant is the first link to the United States Code. And that’s applicable to who can use what airports (e.g., small aircraft can’t be denied access to big airports like ORD). It’s a stretch to tie that to who can buy a ticket on an airplane.

  21. In my state, NC, the Real ID license carries an extra charge. IMO, just another tax
    So, is my passport valid as a Real ID? Neither my SSN nor my address appear on it.
    How about my Global Entry? Same as my passport regarding SSN and address?
    As to Voter ID, what could possibly be wrong with that?

  22. @Peter MaC. “As to Voter ID, what could possibly be wrong with that?” LOL. Answer: It might make rampant voter fraud by the democrat party more difficult. Did you see Broward County in 2018? They purposely mixed up legal and illegal votes to make sure both were counted. They kept on changing the date for votes to be counted so that they could manufacture additional votes. They kept on finding uncounted votes everywhere. The voter fraud was pretty much in your face for everyone to see. Democrat party in action.

  23. If you’re pretending to be a lawyer, you’re doing a bad job at it. Your Cornell link at the bottom doesn’t have any direct reference to air travel.

    Oh, ye Gods. It also doesn’t have any reference to any other form of travel that I can see. It just says that people have a right to travel. Flying is travel.

    By the way — what happens if I show up at the airport without my ID?

  24. @OJS “rampant voter fraud by the democratic party” ??? You must be referring to the 3 to 5 million illegal votes for Hillary Clinton Trump claimed. But his commission found no evidence to support the Trump lie you repeat. In act, in the last election Republicans committed the most outrageous incident of voter fraud.

    In 2018 the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District in NC hired someone to stuff the ballot box with invalid absentee ballots among other fraudulent acts. Republican voter fraud was so egregious that the election commission refused to certify the results and ordered a new election which is being held next month.

    As the country’s demographics change, Republicans are increasingly scared of free elections. Implementing photo ID is a subtle way to suppress voting by the segment of the population that will have the most difficulty getting the IDs. Photo ID is a more subtle form of voter suppression tactics like poll taxes, citizenship tests, and outright terrorism that Americans have used to prevent minorities from voting or to invalidate there votes.

  25. The information needed to apply for a U.S passport is effectively taken at your word (other than a certified birth record), and a passport is considered valid REAL ID, it is also inherently accepted as proof of identity/citizenship throughout the world. Yet you’re supposed to prove the very same information 6 ways to Sunday to just get a drivers license?…which, but for a couple very specific exceptions, has no inherent validity outside our nation’s borders.

    Am I the only one missing the point of this alarmingly disproportionate amount of “me” proof needed simply to drive across town versus the relatively limited amount needed for world-wide travel?????

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