The REAL ID Deadline is Fast Approaching

I recently traveled from my home airport of St. Louis-Lambert International Airport and noticed some new signs at one of the airport’s TSA checkpoints.  At most major airports, the TSA usually sets up a few signs around the checkpoint with guidelines on liquids and prohibited items, advertisements for TSAPre, and news regarding travel safety.  I’ve come to subconsciously read these signs and take note of what they say.  However, when I noticed that every single sign featured new signs plastered with big bold letters and bright alarming colors, I took a second to read them closely.  The signs alerted passengers to the fact that, in roughly a year, they will need a REAL ID compliant form of identification in order to travel.

What’s “REAL ID“?

First made effective in 2008 and later amended in 2014, the REAL ID Act according to congress is, “An Act to establish and rapidly implement regulations for State driver’s license and identification document security standards, to prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States.”  Essentially, it standardized the security requirements for state-issued driver’s licenses and other forms of identification.  Its goal is to unify states in fighting terrorism.  Say what you will about the numerous anti-terrorism measures passed by the US government, but it’s the law.  It might not seem apparent yet, to how the REAL ID Act pertains to air travel.  However, the REAL ID Act could very well impact air travel in a major way for many Americans in roughly a year.  Here’s how.

States Aren’t Adhering to Federal ID Requirements

A Few REAL ID Non-Compliant Missouri IDs (Image Credit: Missouri Department of Revenue)

A Few REAL ID Non-Compliant Missouri IDs (Image Credit: Missouri Department of Revenue)

In short, this entire piece of legislation instructs US states on how to properly print and issue forms of identification.  Apparently, numerous states were issuing inadequate driver’s licenses and IDs.  The rationale to standardize state IDs was to keep terrorists (and non-US citizens) from illegally obtaining IDs that could make them appear to be legal residents of the US.  Since some state IDs were opening the door to this risk, the federal government stepped in and issued a list of requirements via the REAL ID Act.  The bill was actually signed into law back in 2005, first made effective in 2008, and put back into effect in 2014 after numerous states applied for extensions.  So, here we are in 2017.  Almost every single US state either meets the requirements or has made efforts to issue compliant forms of ID.  However, some states even 12 years later, yet to announce plans for new REAL ID-compliant IDs.  Those states are;

South Carolina

States with an asterisk issue Enhanced Driver’s License which may or may not meet the REAL ID Act’s requirements for forms of state-issued IDs.

I feel the pain of many Americans as I myself live in Missouri, one of the non-compliant states.

42.9 Million Americans Might Need a Passport to Travel Come 2018

This is where air travel comes into play.  All travelers know that the group that manages airport security is the Transportation Security Administration, aka The TSA.  The TSA is controlled by the federal government, not by individual states.  Every single TSA employee is an employee of the federal government and every single checkpoint at every US airport is managed at the federal level.  Noticing a trend?  Hint, it has something to do with the word federal.

Beginning on January 22nd, 2018, in order to gain access to any federal branch or use a federal government service that requires some form of identification, that form of ID will need to be REAL ID compliant.  This essentially means that, if you only have an ID issued by a REAL ID noncompliant state, you won’t be able to travel on a commercial airliner.  You won’t be admitted through the TSA checkpoint because your ID won’t be recognized by the federal government.  This means you won’t be able to travel by way of a commercial airline, period.

The REAL ID Chart (Image Credit: Department of Homeland Security)

The REAL ID Chart (Image Credit: Department of Homeland Security)

This is why nearly 43 million Americans might need to bring their passport (issued by the federal government) to the airport in order to travel by air, regardless of their destination.  Even if you’re flying from St. Louis to Chicago, you’d need your passport.  Of course, passports aren’t the only form of ID issued by the federal government. However, it’s the only document that most every American can get easily.

Would Something Like This Really Happen?

It’s certainly possible that the non-compliant states would be issued an extension by the federal government sometime this year.  However, the federal government might not feel the need to be so nice this time around.  After all, the feds have been attempting to get all fifty states up to REAL ID standards for over 12 years now.  It’s also possible that any one of these states could apply for and be granted an extension.  It appears that if a state shows its intent to become compliant within a certain window of time that the federal government would grant that state an extension.  It’s also possible that one or more of these states finally cranks out an ID that meets the REAL ID standards.  However, it could very well be that none of those things happen and millions of Americans will need some federally recognized form of identification to travel by air.

That’s the worse case scenario, however.  If I were to bet on an event that makes 40 some-odd Americans ineligible to travel on a commercial airliner, I’d bet that federal government just issues extensions to keep that event from ever happening.  However, I could be wrong.  That’s a scary thought.  There’s also no way to deny a passenger from one of those states the ability to buy a ticket.  Even if you aren’t able to get through a TSA security checkpoint, airlines will still let you buy a ticket.  That means that, come next January, you might end up a few hundred dollars short if you show up to the airport with a non-compliant ID.  That’s an even scarier thought if you ask me.


It’s a scary thing to think about, having to pay to get a passport just to travel within your own country.  However, it’s also the reality many Americans could face come next year.  I personally feel that an event like this is highly unlikely but, it’s still possible.  Additionally, it’s appearing that an event like this is becoming more and more likely to occur.  In Missouri, a noncompliant state, the last reported event in which legislators addressed this issue was a year ago.  As of today (1.8.17), none of these states have made an appeal to be granted an extension.  The deadline for the federal government to grant extensions is January 30th of this year.  These extensions last up until late October of 2017 at which time the federal government would decide whether or not it will grant any further extensions.  All of this would lead me to believe that, though unlikely, it could be that at least one of these non-compliant states could be faced with the reality of advising travelers to bring their passports with them to the airport regardless of their final destination.

What do you think about the REAL ID Act? Is an event in which a state doesn’t meet federal standards remotely possible?