New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically
Travelers need to make sure their IDs are REAL. Photo: CNN

Your old driver's license might not be enough to get you through airport security next time you fly.

A security law that was passed after the 9/11 attacks is finally set to go into effect this October, after being delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting October 1, travelers will need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, US passport, US military ID, or other acceptable identification to board a commercial aircraft in the US, according to CNN.

New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically
Photo: CNN

A REAL ID is marked by a star on the top of the card. It was born out of the federal REAL ID Act, which established minimum security standards for the issuing of state licenses and their production. Under that act, federal agencies are prohibited from accepting licenses from states not meeting those minimum standards for certain activities.

The Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline for states to comply with REAL ID requirements last year so that leaders could focus their efforts on the coronavirus pandemic.

About enhanced driver's licenses

Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only.

State-issued enhanced driver's licenses are marked with a flag. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.

It’s the law

Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act and implementing regulations establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards and prohibit federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards for official purposes, such as getting through the airport security checkpoint to board a plane.

as the date that every air traveler will need a compliant license to board a domestic flight. Now the deadline has been extended again.

No REAL ID, no flying

If you can't produce acceptable identification, your US airport's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint will not clear you for flight. The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. That could lead to serious backups at US airports starting October 1.

New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically
Todd Hauptli, CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives, shows his REAL ID-compliant driver's license during a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on October 1, 2019.

While many states have been issuing compliant documents for years, travelers shouldn't assume their driver's licenses and other documents meet the requirements. For example, Georgia became compliant in 2012 and California became compliant in 2018, but their driver's licenses issued prior to those times in those states are not compliant.

Check if your state driver's license or identification card is REAL ID-compliant simply by looking for a star in the upper right-hand corner. Some state departments of motor vehicles will confirm REAL ID status online.

Still a backlog

The Department of Homeland Security reported this week that 48 of 50 states in the US are REAL ID compliant, up from January 2017, when only 26 states were. The two remaining states that haven't started issuing new IDs are Oklahoma and Oregon.

Collectively, those 48 states have issued more than 95 million REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and ID cards.

While the US Travel Association applauded the government's "pre-submission," decision, "the challenge remains that tens of millions of Americans do not yet possess REAL ID-compliant identification," said Tori Emerson Barnes, USTA executive vice president of public affairs and policy, in a statement.

What qualifies as a REAL ID

New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically
A US passport qualifies as a REAL ID. Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

REAL ID-compliant state driver's licenses or other state photo identity cards

• US passport

• US passport card

• DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)

• US Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents

• Permanent resident card

• Border crossing card

• State-issued Enhanced Driver's License

• Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID

• HSPD-12 PIV card

• Foreign government-issued passport

• Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card

• Transportation worker identification credential

• US Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)

• US Merchant Mariner Credential

Forgot Your ID?

In the event, you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity. If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint. You will be subject to additional screening, including a patdown and screening of carry-on property.

You will not be allowed to enter the security checkpoint if your identity cannot be confirmed, you choose to not provide proper identification or you decline to cooperate with the identity verification process.

TSA recommends that you arrive at least two hours in advance of your flight time.

Passenger Support

Screening Assistance

TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process.

Call 72 hours prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint.

Passenger Support Specialists

Travelers requiring special accommodations or concerned about the security screening process at the airport may ask a TSA officer or supervisor for a passenger support specialist who can provide on-the-spot assistance.


1. Are TSA PreCheckpassengers subject to REAL ID requirements?

Yes. Even if you have TSA PreCheck, you’ll still need a REAL ID or other acceptable forms of ID starting Oct. 1, 2021.

2. Can I use my driver’s license to board an aircraft if it is not REAL ID-compliant?

Beginning October 1, 2021, every traveler must present a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or other acceptable forms of identification, such as a valid passport or U.S. military ID, to fly within the U.S. Review the complete list of acceptable identification.

Individuals who are unable to verify their identity will not be permitted to enter the TSA security checkpoint and will not be allowed to fly.

3. Do I need a REAL ID if I’m flying internationally?

You’ll need your passport for international travel, and you can use your passport to verify your identity at the TSA checkpoint instead of a REAL ID-compliant state-issued driver’s license. If you plan to present your state driver’s license to verify your identity at the TSA checkpoint, that card must be REAL ID compliant.

4. How do I get a REAL ID?

Check with your state driver’s license agency. You will need to go in person to present documentation to verify who you are in order to get your REAL ID.

5. Is my tribal identification an acceptable form of ID?

Yes, a federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID is an acceptable form of identification.

6. Will TSA accept a temporary REAL ID from the DMV?

Interim driver’s licenses are temporary paper documents and are not currently an acceptable form of ID.

7. Will minors need to have a driver’s license or state ID to fly domestically?

TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will need acceptable identification.

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