Millions Could Be Barred From Flying at REAL ID Deadline

Driver's license graphic
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Almost three out of four Americans are unprepared for the October 1, 2020, deadline for full implementation of REAL ID, and millions could be prevented from boarding a plane because they do not have the required identification, according to a new study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association.

On that date, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will implement the last phase of enforcement of the REAL ID Act—the law originally passed in 2005 which will require travelers to present a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or other approved form of identification to board a flight.

According to the survey conducted for U.S. Travel by Longwoods International, a market research consultancy, 72 percent of Americans either do not have a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or are unsure if they do.

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The study also revealed a significant REAL ID awareness issue, with more than half of Americans (57%) saying they did not know about the upcoming deadline.

Many Americans also lack the alternatives to REAL ID-compliant, state-issued driver's licenses—such as a U.S. passport. 39% of Americans say they do not have any form of identification that will be accepted starting October 1, 2020.

This equates to an estimated 99 million Americans that may not currently hold the proper identification to board an airplane starting next October.

Based on this data, U.S. Travel economists estimated the potential economic impact of REAL ID implementation: if REAL ID standards were to be fully enforced immediately, at least 78,500 air travelers could be turned away at TSA checkpoints on the first day, costing the U.S. economy $40.3 million in lost travel-related spending.

If that trend sustained for a full week, the figures could grow to more than half a million (549,500) air travelers prevented from boarding planes and $282 million in lost travel spending.

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said that the organization is launching a broad educational initiative to help travelers prepare for the deadline. The challenge, Dow noted, stems from all of the U.S. states and territories having individual—rather than concerted—processes for implementation of REAL ID standards.

The U.S. Travel Association is leading an initiative by private-sector travel stakeholders to better prepare the country for the October 1, 2020, REAL ID deadline. The association has developed a toolkit filled with resources for its membership and other allies to help educate Americans on what a REAL ID is, and it is coordinating engagement with policymakers and government agencies to proactively address the awareness deficit pre-deadline.

U.S. Travel also released a series of policy recommendations to mitigate the challenges caused by REAL ID implementation:

  • Modernize the REAL ID statute: Amend the REAL ID Act to allow for mobile and web-based REAL ID applications and to permit TSA to accept mobile or digital REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses, which will reduce DMV backlogs and increase checkpoint efficiency.
  • Designate registered traveler enrollment as an acceptable alternative: Utilize the existing security and identification features of trusted traveler programs, including TSA Precheck, to reduce the need for a REAL ID Act-compliant driver's license at airport checkpoints.
  • Transition TSA checkpoints to automated identity verification: Accelerate the implementation of automated identity verification technology for passport holders and trusted travelers, which will strengthen security, improve checkpoint efficiency, and decrease the number of travelers that arrive at TSA checkpoints without accepted identifications.
  • Develop alternative screening procedures for travelers without accepted licenses: TSA should work with the private sector to develop procedures for clearing travelers that do not have a REAL ID or acceptable alternative after October 1, 2020. Turning away large numbers of travelers at the checkpoint is simply unacceptable, the U.S. Travel Association said.

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