Last updated: 12:37 PM ET, Wed January 06 2016

Why You Could Soon Need a Passport for Domestic Flights

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 06, 2016

Why You Could Soon Need a Passport for Domestic Flights

The Real ID Act has been in the works for almost a decade. The law, which basically requires states to get extra information (and to store that information in a central database) to verify a person’s identity before issuing an ID, is now officially in effect. 

New ID laws now in effect (in most states)

However, a number of states have yet to comply. Most of these have been granted some sort of extension before they have to issue the new IDs. New Jersey, for example, has been given nine extra months to comply because it is “taking steps” towards Real ID. Missouri, meanwhile, has told its citizens that they will have at least four months notice before they are required to use the new IDs at airports at government buildings around the country.     

As the Real ID deadline approached late last year, it looked like a few states would not be able (or willing) to comply. However, a significant number have to be granted extensions or waivers. New Jersey, Minnesota, Arizona, Illinois and a host of other states have not yet required their citizens to get the new IDs even though the deadline has passed. 

A potential problem

Why not? Some state legislatures consider the whole idea an overuse of power by the federal government. Others are concerned about requiring citizens to come up with the necessary documents and proofs if they are merely trying to get a drivers’ license. 

A Real ID will be a kind of national ID that people will need to use if they want to gain access to federal buildings. More importantly, it will be required by the TSA at airport security checkpoints. Travelers will need (or "already need" in most states) to have a Real ID in order to fly. Homeland Security’s website explains: "The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver's licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act's minimum standards. The purposes covered by the Act are: accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and, no sooner than 2016, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft."

Flying will be the biggest issue for most people whose states aren’t issuing the new IDs. Eventually people without a Real ID won’t be able to pass through TSA checkpoints, which will be included under the law because the TSA is a federal agency.

An easy solution?

For fliers from Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona and other non-compliant states, Real ID could spell trouble. There is an easy way around all of this, however. The other ID accepted by federal agencies is a US passport. People with passports can easily avoid the whole Real ID issue. The problem for some will be that getting a passport is more time-consuming than getting a drivers’ license, and it might not seem worthwhile if you only plan on making the occasional domestic flight. For frequent travelers who live in New Jersey, Minnesota or other non-compliant states, a passport could be the best solution. 

Washington seems to be giving states a lot of leeway for the time being. While it might be a pain, passports could eventually be the silver bullet that will allow travelers to fly whether or not their state adopts the Real ID. At least in some cases, it looks like this will be an ongoing debate at the state level, and there is no guarantee that every state will comply.   


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