Real ID Deadline Is a Year Away ⁠— Don’t Wait Until Then

Officials worry about long lines, travelers turned away at security checkpoints

By Rick Wills

Published September 30, 2019

Read Time: 4 mins


Go to your calendar. Put a big red circle around Oct. 1, 2020.

Beginning that day, Transportation Security Administration workers will refuse to allow passengers through airport security checkpoints without Real ID, a federally mandated form of identification that meets increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Even though it’s a year away, the requirement makes aviation officials and some lawmakers nervous.

348 days 10 hours 27 minutes 11 seconds

“We want people to be able to board their flight. No one wants passengers to be blocked from a flight because they don’t have Real ID,” said Debbie Bowman, executive director of the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania, which represents 21 airports in the state.

Bowman says most travelers are vaguely aware of the requirement and assume they have plenty of time to get the upgraded form of state identification.

“Don’t wait until the last minute. That will probably be more time and work,” she said.

Raising awareness

About 381,000 people in Pennsylvania have received Real ID as of Sept. 19, according to PennDOT, which expects that 25 percent of the 10 million people with driver’s licenses in the state will get a Real ID. About 1.3 million customers are expected to opt in before the enforcement deadline.

“We are consistently communicating with our customers about the importance of deciding whether they need a Real ID and providing the information they need to obtain one,” said Melanie Baldwin, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

The state is offering Real ID presentations to civic groups, community organizations and at legislator-sponsored expositions and meetings. Yet some wonder whether such efforts are enough.

“The volume is not happening, even for PennDOT’s targeted group,” Bowman said. “There could be long, long lines at PennDOT a year from now.”

About 87 percent of air travelers in the U.S. fly once a year or less, a huge group of people authorities are particularly focused on reaching.

“There are people who might go to a wedding or a funeral who are flying for the first time in 10 years. Will they really be ready with this ID?” Bowman said.

Officials from the TSA, PennDOT and Pittsburgh International Airport held a news conference at the airport to raise awareness of the new REAL ID requirement on Sept. 25. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Vince Gastgeb, vice president of government and community affairs for Pittsburgh International Airport, isn’t sure if the state’s estimate of 2.5 million Real IDs is adequate. Like Bowman, he worries that infrequent travelers and those who fly on budget airlines may not even be aware of Real ID.

“We are concerned about people who don’t travel much, whether they even know about this requirement,” he said.

Gastgeb said the new policy could hamper Pittsburgh International’s passenger traffic, which has grown each of the past five years.

“We don’t want the load factor, the number of passengers, going down because of this. It’s a very competitive business,” he said.

The Real ID process

The TSA can process passengers who do not have appropriate identification, but it’s a time-consuming process that Gastgeb said travelers shouldn’t rely on. TSA will also accept passports in lieu of Real ID cards.

Congress passed the REAL ID law in 2005, prompted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The new cards are required for federal purposes; in addition to flights, you’ll need REAL ID to enter federal buildings (excluding federal courts) or to gain entry to military bases.

Getting Real ID requires submitting an original birth certificate or passport, a Social Security card, proof of residency and documentation of any name changes. There is a one-time $30 fee.

Pennsylvanians should not get Real ID confused with the state’s redesigned driver’s licenses – Real ID has a star in the top right corner; regular licenses do not.

An example of a REAL ID-Compliant Photo ID Card (Photo provided by PennDOT).

In southwestern Pennsylvania, the only place to get a Real ID in one day is the Bridgeville PennDOT Driver’s License Center. Other area PennDOT centers take applications and will mail Real IDs within 15 days.

Pennsylvania drivers who received their first licenses after September 2003 are pre-verified for Real ID and may apply for Real ID pre-verification on PennDOT’s website. The state started keeping copies of customers’ documents that year.

It’s the millions of people who received their first licenses before 2003 that worry U.S Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“It seems to me citizens are going to be caught by surprise and outraged just about a year from now if suddenly they can’t board a plane,” Wicker told The Hill. “They’ve bought a ticket, they’ve gotten there and suddenly that item that’s been golden for years and years no longer gets you on the plane.”

Before applying for Real ID visit

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