Travelers in the airport.

Don’t Be Left at the Gate


Commercial airline travel can stress even the most seasoned traveler. Crying babies. Drunk passengers. Flight delays. Long waiting lines. Emptying pockets. Pulling laptops and other electronics from bags. Removing shoes and belts. Carrying all liquids in appropriately sized containers. Add to those hassles, one more. Your driver’s license may not be able to get you past the TSA checkpoints to fly commercially after October 1, 2020.

New Rules

On that autumn day, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or an alternative acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States.


Unlike most countries, the United States has no national identification card. Because of the ubiquity of driving, the de facto form of identification has become driver’s licenses. The rub for the Federal Government has been that driver’s licenses are issued by the states. In 2005, Congress passed a new law to remedy this situation. Prior to the Real ID Act, each state set its own rules and guidelines for driver’s licenses including the look of the card, what data it contains, what documents must be provided to obtain one, and what information is stored.

The Act also contained several more controversial items. Among them is the right for provinces and territories in Canada and states in Mexico to join the program. Consequently, the REAL ID Act was opposed by an odd assortment of political bed fellows from across the political spectrum.

They included the conservative Heritage Foundation, the ACLU, the Cato Institute, Christian advocacy groups, such as the American Center for Law & Justice, privacy advocacy groups, like the 511 campaign, government accountability groups; labor groups, like AFL-CIO; People for the American Way; consumer and patient protection groups, gun rights groups, such as Gun Owners of America, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal; and the Obama administration, among others.

To get around these groups, Congress pushed the timeline for compliance out 15 years in the hopes everyone would forget about it. And it worked. As of April 2019, 43 states and territories have been certified as compliant, and 13 have been granted extensions. The states with extensions include Alaska, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. If you have a license from one of these states, you are most at risk of being inconvenienced.


Every year, airports are becoming more congested. Security is at an all-time high. The airlines are finding new ways to squeeze profitability from their customers. Each of these factors impact the passenger experience negatively. To avoid this new potential hindrance, look in your wallet or purse and see if your state has given you a “gold star”. If not, you’ll have some work to do between now and late next year.


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