Do you need a passport for domestic flights? The answer to that question has always been “no,” but thanks to the REAL ID Act, that’s about to change.
Moving forward, in 2018, your driver’s license may not cut it at the airport. Read on to find out why and what you need to do.
What is the REAL ID Act?
In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act. In response to the 9/11 attacks, the REAL ID Act created new security standards for state’s driver’s licenses and IDs. If you live in a REAL ID-compliant state, you probably noticed that you have had to bring additional documents with you the last time you renewed your driver’s license.
But not all states are compliant. In fact, roughly half of states have been playing a game of chicken with the federal government over the law. At the original 2010 deadline, at least 26 states were out of compliance; so, the TSA issued an extension. When that extension ran out in 2013, they extended it again for states without compliant IDs.
Currently, 27 states (including Washington, DC) issue REAL ID-compliant licenses. But that still leaves 24 noncompliant states and 5 US territories. Now, there’s a new deadline looming, and time is running out.
UPDATE: Extensions have been issued for all but 3 states (NY, MI and LA) as of 12/07/2017!
The Clock is Ticking
Most of the REAL ID extensions for noncompliant states expired in October 2017. As a result, all the affected states have applied for more time. However, so far the Department of Homeland security has only issued one extension. Virginia now officially has until October 10, 2018 to make their licensing process comply with the REAL ID Act.
All of the other noncompliant states and territories are under review, and have been given a short grace period. The TSA will continue to accept licenses from these states until January 22, 2018. After that, if your state isn’t compliant, you’d better have an alternate form of ID on hand if you want to board your plane. The TSA will not allow you past the security checkpoint without one!
Of course, there is the possibility that the federal government will issue another round of extensions, just in the nick of time.
But the DHS website strongly implies that’s not going to happen.
DHS is committed to enforcing the REAL ID Act in accordance with the phased enforcement schedule and regulatory timeframes and is not inclined to grant additional extensions to any states that are not both committed to achieving full compliance and making substantial and documented progress in satisfying any unmet requirements.
It sounds like they’re through playing games, doesn’t it?
REAL ID: Is Your State Compliant?
As of October 2017, the following states are currently compliant with the REAL ID Act:
- District of Columbia
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Is your state not on the list? This map from the Department of Homeland Security will tell you if it has been granted an extension, and for how long.
Will You Need a Passport for Domestic Flights?
If you live in a non-compliant state, that’s a real possibility.
For example, in Minnesota, the state plans to have Real ID-compliant licenses available by October 2018 at the earliest. Since the federal government has not granted the state’s request for an extension, Minnesotans may need a passport (or another TSA-approved ID) to fly after January 22.
Our advice: just skip the drama. Get a passport, and you’ll be covered no matter where you plan to travel!
Other Approved Forms of ID
Don’t want to get a passport? You do have other options. For example, Minnesota’s regular license is not compliant. But the enhanced driver’s license, (which has a RFID chip like a passport) is compliant. Plus, with an enhanced driver’s license, you can drive (but not fly) across the border to Mexico or Canada.
Not all states issue enhanced driver’s licenses. Besides a passport, other acceptable documents include:
- DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST)
- US military ID
- Permanent resident card
- Border crossing card
- Tribal photo ID
- HSPD-12 PIV card
- Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
- Transportation worker identification credential
As you can see, using a passport or a passport card for domestic flights is the most practical option for most people.
Remember, you can only use a passport card for domestic flights. If your destination is outside of the US, you’ll need a passport book.
For more on the differences, see Passports vs Passport Cards.
Getting a Passport
What do you need to get a passport? It depends. Are you applying for a new one? Renewing an old one? Applying for a child passport? See How to Get a Passport in 2017 for steps and requirements for each situation.
Plan ahead. If you don’t have a compliant ID and you have a trip planned, apply for a passport well ahead of time. Getting your passport can take 4 to 6 weeks for regular processing and 3 weeks for expedited processing from the post office.
If you need a passport more quickly, you can make an appointment at the nearest regional passport agency, or RushMyPassport can submit your application for you for an additional fee. In both cases, your application can be processed in as little as one business day. Expediting companies like RushMyPassport help you with the application, help catch and correct mistakes and provide super-fast processing with no need to travel to an agency or wait in line.
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