For Pennsylvanians, It’s Time to Get Real

In 2020, you’ll need a federal REAL ID card or a passport to fly out of PIT  

By BlueSkyStaff

Published August 20, 2018

Read Time: 4 mins


On Oct. 1, 2020, your driver’s license will no longer get you on a plane at Pittsburgh International Airport.

That’s when all Pennsylvania residents must show a new form of identification — called REAL ID — to board a commercial flight. Your passport will still work, too.

REAL ID cards, mandated by Congress in 2005, are encrypted with multiple safeguards and can’t be fraudulently reproduced.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will begin issuing REAL ID cards in Spring 2019. To get one, you’ll need to go to a Driver License Center or a REAL ID Center, both operated by PennDOT. Be prepared to show:

  • proof of identity, such as an original or certified copy of a birth certificate with a raised seal or a valid U.S. Passport
  • your Social Security card (laminated or sealed-in-plastic cards are not acceptable)
  • proof of all legal name changes, such as a marriage certificate or court order issued by your county’s family court
  • two proofs of your current, physical Pennsylvania address

Pennsylvania pause

Congress passed the REAL ID law in 2005, prompted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The law established minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. The new cards are required for federal purposes; in addition to flights, you’ll need your REAL ID to enter a federal building (excluding federal courts) or gain entry to a military base.

The federal government charged states with developing their own REAL ID cards, as well as the processes for people to obtain them. States had until 2016 to introduce REAL ID. Most states complied.

But Pennsylvania state lawmakers hit the pause button. They were concerned about privacy issues and costs, so they voted to prohibit REAL ID.

Thus began a lengthy tug-of-war, with the federal government saying, “You must …” and Pennsylvania saying, “No, we don’t.”

In 2015, the feds stepped in and made REAL ID mandatory in Pennsylvania. They granted the state multiple extensions, but now time is really up.

PIT officials, along with other groups, lobbied successfully to end the state’s prohibition on REAL ID, and began talking with PennDOT about how to roll out the program.

“We wanted to make the REAL ID process as simple as possible for travelers,” said Vince Gastgeb, vice president, Government & Community Affairs at PIT.

At a Driver License Center, you’ll be asked to opt-in to REAL ID, similar to the way you choose to become an organ donor. If you answer yes and provide all of the required documentation, you’ll receive your REAL ID card in the mail in seven to 10 days.

If you go to a REAL ID Center with the required documentation, you’ll get your card on the spot. Current plans call for 13 REAL ID centers in the state.

There is a one-time fee of $30 for a REAL ID. If you’re renewing your driver’s license, you’ll pay the $30 plus the cost of renewal, and your REAL ID will become your driver’s license.

Do I really need REAL ID?

You might be thinking that since you haven’t flown in decades and have no plans to, there’s no need to spend the extra $30, right? Not necessarily. If you don’t have a valid passport, consider the unexpected. What if Cousin Catherine dies in Colorado? What if your sorority sisters have a reunion in Reno? What if you win a weekend in Walla Walla, Washington?

Without REAL ID or a passport, you won’t be able to fly to any of those destinations.

“When you are asked if you want REAL ID, consider all possibilities,” Gastgeb advised. “It’s worth the investment to prevent issues in the future.”

If you decide you want a REAL ID card, gather the necessary documentation and, at the appropriate time, head to either a Driver License Center or a REAL ID Center and express your interest in obtaining REAL ID.

“If you earned your license before 2003,” Gastgeb said, “use the time between now and October of 2020 to gather what you’ll need. Look for your original birth certificate, check your Social Security card and know that PIT is here to help.”

Look for posters announcing REAL ID at PIT or Allegheny County Airport, or follow on social media for updates.

Getting started on your REAL ID
You can get a jump start on getting your REAL ID card. In September 2018, you can take your required documents to any PennDOT Driver License Center to have them verified.

Once REAL IDs are available in Spring 2019, you’ll be able to order your REAL ID online without having to return to the Driver License or REAL ID center.

If you received a learner’s permit, driver’s license or photo ID after 2003, the state has your required documentation and will contact you about obtaining your REAL ID. You also can click here to find out if your required documents are on file.

If you received a learner’s permit, driver’s license or photo ID before 2003, PennDOT will contact you in late 2018 or early 2019 with instructions about when and where you can receive your REAL ID.

You’ll need to provide the four forms of identification listed above. Regardless of when your Pennsylvania driver’s license expires, you’ll be able to obtain your REAL ID any time after Spring 2019.

Don’t forget: You’ll still need a valid passport to fly to international destinations.

 Key Dates

  • Now . If you received your first learner’s permit, driver’s license or photo ID after 2003, you should have already been contacted by PennDOT about when and where you can obtain your REAL ID card.
  • Late 2018/Early 2019 . If you received your first learner’s permit, driver’s license or photo ID earlier than 2003, PennDOT will contact you about when and where you can get your card.
  • Spring 2019 . PennDOT will begin issuing REAL ID cards.
  • October 1, 2020 . REAL ID or a current passport will be required for all domestic commercial airline travel.

For More Information
For more information about REAL ID, please visit these sites:

PIT REAL ID Information
PennDOT REAL ID Information
PennDOT REAL ID Brochure
Department of Homeland Security (search: REAL ID)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) (search: REAL ID)

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