Personal Finance

Starting Jan. 22, some may need a passport for domestic air travel

Key Points
  • Starting Jan. 22, for some, a driver's license will no longer suffice for domestic travel thanks to the Real ID Act.
  • Here's what to know before you fly.
You may need a passport for domestic air travel soon

(Update: Since publication of this story, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that all 50 states have now met the Jan. 22 deadline to become compliant with Real ID or have an extension to become compliant, which means passengers can continue to use their licenses as usual for domestic travel.)

In some states, a driver's license will no longer cut it for domestic travel as of Jan. 22, thanks to the Real ID Act.

Steve Yonkers, the Department of Homeland Security's director of Real ID, confirmed that as of that date, all adults boarding any federally regulated aircraft — including domestic flights — who don't have a Real ID, or an "enhanced ID," will need to show an alternative form of identification (such as a passport, Global Entry card or other acceptable forms of ID) at security — unless they are a resident of a state that has been issued an extension.

This is the final phase of an act passed by Congress in 2005, in the wake of 9/11, which aimed to raise the security standards for state-issued driver's licenses.

"One of the goals is to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft," Yonkers said.

All states are currently in the process of implementing Real ID programs. Twenty-eight states and territories are already fully compliant and 26 have been granted extensions through Oct. 10, 2018. Just two territories, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands, are still under review for an extension, Yonkers said.

Check whether your state is compliant or has an extension

Homeland Security has been working closely with the TSA to make the transition painless, Yonkers said.

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Residents of a state that has transitioned to issuing Real IDs have the option to go in and get a new, compliant license or use their passport when they fly. (If you go to the airport without proper ID, you may still be allowed to fly if the TSA can confirm your identity using a public database. If your identity cannot be verified, you will not be allowed through security.)

Travelers with driver's licenses issued by a state that has been granted an extension will still be able to use their driver's licenses in the interim.

But starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a Real ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of ID, for domestic air travel.

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