REAL ID act may cause issues for air travelers



What’s in your wallet?

If you plan on traveling any time next year, the question is a pertinent one. Travelers with driver’s licenses from New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Louisiana, American Samoa or another state or territory the Department of Homeland Security deems not-compliant with the federal REAL ID act may soon be barred from using theirs as legal identification at the airport.

Up in the air, however, is whether “soon” means early or late 2016 — or a year or more.

DHS has already completed three separate phases of its REAL ID enforcement plan, which covers access to nuclear plants and a wide array of federally protected facilities. However, the next phase adds commercial aircraft to the agency’s access list, and will take place sometime after the turn of the calendar year.

The exact rollout date will be announced soon, said DHS spokeswoman Amanda DeGroff adding that the agency will “ensure that the traveling public has ample notice before any changes are made that could possibly affect their travel planning.”

Until then, DeGroff said the Transportation Security Administration will continue to accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards from all states.

This means some travelers may be in for an unpleasant surprise at airports  next year.

While almost two dozen states issue driver’s licenses that are compliant with the law, numerous others have raised privacy and cost concerns. They, along with some independent advocacy groups, actively oppose the measure.

Some states, like Oklahoma, have laws on their books that explicitly prohibit complying with REAL ID; meanwhile, about two dozen non-complaint states have been granted extensions.

Turned away?

It’s unlikely the rule will take effect January 1, given the hurdles to compliance and the broad opposition.

“We expect that New Yorkers with standard-issue licenses will have more than a year notice before any change is implemented,” said Casey McNulty, a spokesman for the Empire State’s Department of Motor Vehicles. “New York has also applied for an extension to the law.”

When the final phase does ultimately take effect, travelers age 18 and over from states that remain non-compliant will need to a secondary or alternate form of identification. These include a U.S. passport or passport card, or one of the documents TSA’s authorized ID list, to pass through airport security checkpoints.

Travelers who do a little planning shouldn’t have a problem getting on their planes, but “rushes on passports will likely result in delays in getting applications processed,” noted Andrew Meehan, policy director of advocacy group Keeping Identities Safe and a Real ID supporter.

Still, “airports in noncompliant states will likely see long lines as travelers unaware of the changes will be turned away.”

(My story about the potential issues for air travelers due to the Real ID act first appeared on CNBC)

Flying today? Be ready for long lines and confusion

Last week’s fizzled Christmas Day terrorist attack on Delta/NW Flight #253 from Amsterdam to Detroit ignited a wave of new security measures at airports and on airplanes.

Airport and airline spokespeople and TSA officials say domestic passengers will likely notice some heightened security procedures, such as explosive-sniffing dogs and added law enforcement presence at many domestic airports.

Travelers on US-bound flights, though, will be notice significant changes.

Under rules rushed out over the weekend, passengers boarding flights heading to the United States will be subject to pat-downs and bag searches at the gate.  During their flight, passengers will be required to put away personal items and stay in their seats for the final hour of flight.

The TSA posted a very general description of the new rules.  More specifics were posted on various airport and airline Web sites and detailed in a memo that some airlines shared with bloggers over the weekend.

Bottom line:

While everyone gets used to the new regulations, get to the airport early. Really early.

If you’re flying internationally to the United States, be prepared for an extra pat down and bag check at the gate.  And pack carefully:  you’ll only be allowed one small – very small – carry-on bag.

It’s a good bet that airlines, airports and the TSA will make some changes to rules and procedures starting today, so keep an eye on the news, airline and airport Web sites, and the TSA.gov site.

Rules are already changing:

Last night Canada’s WestJet announced that it would no longer accept roller bags or larger backpacks as carry-on luggage. And this morning American Airlines announced that, due to the long lines and confusion over the new rules, for the next few days the airline will waive change fees for passengers traveling from Canada to the United States.  Other airlines will probably do the same.

Here’s a link to the story on the new rules I wrote for MSNBC.com.

Please share your stories about your travel experiences this past weekend and let us know what you see happening if you end up stuck at the airport.