Airport security

What’s the deal with REAL ID?

My story this week for USA TODAY tries to break down what you need to know about getting that REAL ID we’ve been hearing about.

The deadline is coming up on October 1, 2020, so now it is getting real.

Here’s the story:

Take a look at your driver’s license.

Go ahead, we’ll wait while you fish it out of your wallet.

If your driver’s license doesn’t have a star in the upper corner of the card and you foresee flying on a domestic commercial flight any time after Oct 1, 2020, then your license is not Real ID compliant.

You’ll need to take action, make some decisions, or wait for your state to get its act together.

What’s Real ID?

The Real ID Act is legislation passed in 2005 (in response to the 9/11 terrorists attacks) that set new and higher minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards that will be accepted at airports, other Federally regulated facilities and nuclear power plants.

Debates and pushback from some states over the impact of Real ID have created confusion and delayed the official rollout of the Act’s enforcement, but October 1, 2020 is now considered the firm date for enforcement at commercial airports.

“The main pushback on REAL ID is that it’s too big brother,” said Jeff Price, an aviation security expert with Leading Edge Strategies, “It’s a move to make everyone in the U.S. have identification, which tends to upset those who enjoy life off the grid or don’t like any more government intrusion into their lives more than what is necessary.”

But, Price notes, nearly every state has come into compliance, “And there hasn’t been the big brother/illegal shakedown issues that some people predicted,” he said.

How do you get a REAL ID compliant license and when can you get?

Here’s where things can get tricky.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been phasing in enforcement of the REAL ID Act in an effort to give states time to become compliant with the rules and to begin issuing enhanced driver’s licenses and ID cards in time for the October 1, 2020 deadline.

Most states are currently in compliance (see this map) with the REAL ID Act and are able to issue upgraded licenses and IDs.

Seven states (Oregon, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maine), plus American Samoa, have been granted extensions with varying deadlines for meeting the rules. (Some have until August 1, 2019 while others have until October 1, 2019).

California’s status regarding REAL ID compliance is listed as “Under Review” with a much shorter deadline of May 24, 2019 for achieving compliance.

It is possible these extensions will be extended if the states show they’re making progress. But time is running short.

What this means:

If your current driver’s license or ID card is from a compliant state, TSA will accept it at airports until September 30, 2020. Starting October 1, 2020, though, licenses and IDs from these – and every state – will need to bear a star or special symbol that shows it has been upgraded to conform to the new minimum security standards.

If your current license is from one of the seven states that has been given an extension, or from California, then it is good until the date the extension expires. After that, if the state isn’t given another extension, is it possible TSA will require an additional or alternate form of ID (i.e. a passport) between the extension expiration date and September 30, 2020.

Come October 1, 2020, though, licenses from these extension states will also need to have the star or symbol that shows is has been upgraded to meet the new minimum security standards.

Getting ready for October 1, 2020

Signs about the REAL ID deadline are going up now in airports across the country.

October 1, 2020 seems far off, but it is ‘just’ a year a half away. And there’s sure to be continued confusion and delays in getting upgraded licenses and ID cards from state agencies.

For that reason, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, airports and travel agents are urging travelers to renew their driver’s licenses or state IDs early and to be sure to opt for the ‘enhanced’ or ‘compliant’ versions which, we should warn you, require additional paperwork and may cost more than the ‘for-driving-only’ or ‘unenhanced’ versions in some states.

Or, you can decide if you are comfortable flying domestically with your passport (if you have on; only about 40% of Americans do ) or with one of the other forms of approved identification on this list.

Got that?

TSA adds 9 airlines to PreCheck program

The Transportation Security Administration has added nine new domestic and international carriers to the pre-check expedited screening program.

New airlines joining the program are: Air India, Asiana Airlines, China Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Elite Airways, EVA Airways, Japan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal and Volaris.

This brings the total number of airlines participating in TSA Precheck program to 65 domestic and international carriers. (The full list of participating airlines is below.)

Whether you’re enrolled in TSA Precheck or not, it’s helpful to know how long you’ll be waiting in line.

That’s now easier at John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR), LaGuardia (LGA), and New York Stewart International (SWF) airports, where the respective websites now show up-to-date TSA wait times, as well as taxi wait times. The wait times are also shown on monitors inside the terminals.

According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the real-time tracking information is part of the agency’s “aggressive efforts to deliver an enhanced customer experience” for passengers using its airports.

Here are all the airlines currently participating in TSA’s PreCheck program:

Aeromexico

Air Canada

Air France

Air India

Air Serbia

Alaska Airlines

All Nippon Airways

Allegiant Air

American Airlines

Aruba Airlines

Asiana Airlines

Avianca

Boutique Airlines

British Airways

Brussels Airlines

Cape Air

Cathay Pacific Airways

China Airlines

Condor Airlines

Contour Aviation

Copa Airlines

Delta Air Lines

Eastern Airlines

Elite Airways

Emirates

Etihad Airways

EVA Air

Finnair

Flycana

Frontier Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

Icelandair

InterCaribbean Airways

Japan Airlines

JetBlue Airways

Key Lime Air

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Korean Air

Lufthansa

Miami Air International

Norwegian Air

Philippine Airlines

Porter Airlines

Scandinavian Airlines

Seaborne Airlines

Silver Airways

Singapore Airlines

Southern Airways Express

Southwest Airlines

Spirit Airlines

Sun Country Airlines

Sunwing Airlines

Swift Air

Swiss International Air Lines

TAP Air Portugal

Thomas Cook Airlines (Scan.)

Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)

Turkish Airlines

United Airlines

ViaAir

Virgin Atlantic

Volaris

WestJet

World Atlantic

Xtra Airways

TSA’s Top 10 Most Unusual Finds of 2018

The Transportation Security Administration found a record number of firearms – 4,239 – in carry-on bags at the nation’s airports last year.

The agency also found a wide variety of unusual items. Like these inert grenades dressed in tuxedos.

Want to see more?

Here’s TSA’s video of the Top 10 Most Unusual Checkpoint Finds from 2018.

In case you missed it, here are the TSA’s Top 10 Most Unusual Finds from previous years.

More love for unpaid airport workers

Travel Tidbits: Long security lines + airfare deals

Long(er) checkpoint lines – and checkpoint closures

Due to staffing issues associated with the partial shutdown of the federal government, passengers are finding longer lines tha usual at many airport security checkpoints.

On Monday, Harstfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had checkpoint wait times exceeding an hour. And George Bush International Airport (IAH) said its security checkpoint and ticketing counter in Terminal B would remain closed through Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

Fiji Airways airfare deal

Fiji Airways has a two-for-one airfare deal right now. “The Great Companion Getaway” is available to purchase January 12 to 19 for travel from January 21 through March 31, 2019 and includes flights to Fiji from Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Buy one all-inclusive ticket and pay just for the taxes on a companion ticket. Details here.

$49 flights to Europe on WOW Air – with lots of caveats

WOW Air, the budget Icelandic airline that expanded quickly but is now cutting many routes, has announced $49 sale fares to some European cities from the U.S., all with stops (or free stopvers) in Iceland’s KEF airport.

Fares are on sale now through January 18 (or until seats sell out) for a limited number of dates and flights between January 21 and March 11, 2019.

Keep in mind that WOW Air charges for just about everything – including carry-on bags that go in the overhead bin, reserved seats and in-flight meals, so that $49 fare may be significantly higher once you add in the “extras.”

Stellar credit card offer from Southwest

There are lots of airline credit card offers out there (and blogs devoted to getting you to apply for them) but Southwest Airlines currently has a generous promotion that some say takes things to a new level.

The deal, available through February 11, promises 30,000 Southwest rewards points – plus a compantion pass for the rest of the year – to those who sign up for the airline’s credit card and charge $4,000 to the card in first three months.