Senate chairman worried ‘Real ID’ will shock air travelers

Airport security set to require enhanced driver’s licenses in one year

The Senate Commerce chairman worries passengers will be caught by surprise when airports begin requiring Real IDs to pass through security. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
The Senate Commerce chairman worries passengers will be caught by surprise when airports begin requiring Real IDs to pass through security. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
Posted September 16, 2019 at 6:30am

A post-9/11 law designed to keep people from using fake IDs to board airplanes is one year away from taking effect, but the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee worries that it’s destined to create “Y2K-type disruption” at the nation’s airports in October 2020.

Even though most states are issuing Real IDs — enhanced driver’s licenses required with the passage of a 2005 law  — Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker said he worries passengers who don’t have them and don’t know they need them will be caught by surprise on Oct. 1, 2020, when airports begin requiring the enhanced identification to pass through security.

Wicker is particularly worried about passengers who carry driver’s licenses issued before states began issuing Real IDs. For most states, driver’s licenses that also qualify as Real IDs are marked with a star.

“It seems to me citizens are going to be caught by surprise and outraged just about a year from now if suddenly they can’t board a plane,” he said. “They’ve bought a ticket, they’ve gotten there and suddenly that item that’s been golden for years and years no longer gets you on the plane.”

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It’s the latest hurdle in what has become a years-long attempt to implement a law imposing policies recommended by the 9/11 Commission, which argued that the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center were caused in part by the terrorists’ ability to get bogus IDs.
The law required states to verify that license applicants are in the country legally and require them to have additional proof of residency.

Even from the start, the federal government met resistance from states that balked at the cost of implementing the new measures and expressed privacy concerns. The federal government responded by repeatedly extending the deadline for implementation and granting waivers to states that struggled to meet the requirements.

While most states have begun issuing the cards, Oklahoma and Oregon don’t plan to do so until early next year, according to their state motor vehicle websites. New Jersey is beta-testing Real ID in several locations, according to a spokesman for the state’s motor vehicle commission.

Other states have begun issuing the new IDs on scattershot basis. Virginia, for example, began to issue the cards in October 2018. Ohio started in July 2018. Missouri began issuing them in March of this year. At least two states — Maryland and California — struggled with the requirement, issuing driver’s licenses that they believed met the federal standards only to be told they fell short.

Real ID
Real ID compliant licenses usually have a star in the upper right corner. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)


In California, Department of Motor Vehicles officials initially required just one proof of residency for the REAL ID; the federal law demanded two, said Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The state’s 27 million drivers aren’t required to have a Real ID, and can opt just to get an ordinary driver’s license if they don’t plan to fly or do not have the required documents, such as a Social Security card. California has issued about 5.5 million Real IDs since January 2018.

But 11 million drivers during that time opted not to receive the Real ID when they renewed, Gore said. Those drivers will need other federally approved identification, such as a passport, to board commercial aircraft after Oct. 1, 2020. California has launched websites and digital advertisements to spread the word, hiring a public relations firm to tell the public about Real ID.

The Transportation Security Administration’s acting deputy administrator, Patricia F.S. Cogswell, said the department is “doing everything we can” to make sure people are compliant by next year.

In August, the TSA began verbally advising travelers who showed up at the airports with licenses that weren’t Real ID-compliant that they needed to get new licenses before the Oct. 1, 2020, deadline or they would not be permitted to fly without other acceptable identification.

The agency has displayed signs at airports since April. Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for TSA, said the agency has worked with airlines and airports to publicize the Oct. 1, 2020, requirement. She said it was important for those who want the Real ID to go to check the requirements in advance, then go into their state department of motor vehicles with those documents “to prove you are who you say you are.”

“I think most people assume if they renew their license, they’ll get that star,” she said. “That’s not the case.”

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