What you need to know before October 2020

Things You Need to Know Before Flying This Holiday Season


More people fly during the holiday season than any other time of year, which means bigger lines and long wait times to get through security checkpoints all across the country.

Next holiday season, with the national REAL ID Act officially in place, airport security is expected to get more complicated than ever.

Beginning October 1, 2020, every adult traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or some other accepted form of identification to fly within the United States. Before you start planning your holiday travels, make sure you’re up to date on the latest requirements for airline travel.

The good news is that you still have time to prove your identity to the satisfaction of the federal government, but not too much time. The clock is ticking.

What is the New Law?

In response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation for tighter safety measures at U.S. airports, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005. It sets a new standard for issuing state identification cards, such as driver’s licenses.

For convenience, many states allow people to get or renew an ID through partial online processing and require minimal background information. A REAL ID requires a more thorough screening. To get a REAL ID, applicants have to go to the issuing body’s location in person with paperwork to prove your identity.

At a minimum, the new law requires that you show documentation of:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Lawful status
  • Two documents proving your primary residential address

Your state may have additional requirements, so it’s best to check for those before your visit.

These enhanced ID cards are meant to improve the safety of air travel within this country. They are also made using new technology, which makes them more difficult to forge.

How to Know if You Have a REAL ID

This is tricky. Most states issue a REAL ID that has either a black or gold star on the front of the license. If you see this, you can rest assured that you’re ready to go through TSA with no issues.

However, not every state uses this method. For example, Hawaii, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah are issuing REAL IDs that don’t have this marking.

Likewise, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington State all have an enhanced driver’s license that allows sea and land border crossings to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They are not, however, valid for air travel to these countries—but they do count as a REAL ID domestically.

As of October 2019, only Oregon is still not compliant with the new law. Their new system is set to come online in July 2020.

How can you tell if your ID is not compliant? Check whether the card says “Federal Limits Apply,” or “Not for Federal Identification.” Otherwise, you may wish to go down to your local DMV and ask.

What Does This Mean for Travelers?

If you’re holiday traveling in 2019, you can still use any issued state ID or driver’s license to get through TSA. But, it would be a bad idea to wait too long to get your REAL ID.

Starting October 1, 2020, every adult (over the age of 18) resident of a U.S. state or territory must present a REAL ID-compliant card to fly domestically, or some other acceptable form of identification, to board a commercial aircraft or enter a federal facility. Other acceptable forms of ID include a passport or passport card.

Some of the less common forms of ID that TSA says it will accept include:

  • Permanent resident card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (SENTRI, Global Entry, FAST, NEXUS)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
  • Border crossing card
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID

Bottom Line: Comply with the Law

Unfortunately, many Americans are likely to get turned away at the airport as they attempt to fly for the holidays in late 2020. According to estimates from the U.S. Travel Association, the new law could prevent over 70,000 people from flying on Oct. 1 alone, with a cost to the travel industry of more than $40 million per day.

The good news is that many states are early adopters of this technology, meaning their residents have been in compliance with the law for several years. If you plan to travel for the holidays, don’t wait until the last minute. You might find that your local DMV offices are busier than usual as this deadline approaches. Take care of this requirement as soon as possible to ensure that your holiday travels go smoothly.