REAL ID deadline delayed. Again

If one of the many things worrying you during this pandemic has been how to get to a Department of Motor Vehicles office so you can get a driver’s license or identification card that is REAL ID compliant, you can relax.

The Department of Homeland Security has decided to delay the deadline for this. Yet again.

The latest deadline for this was supposed to be October 1, 2021. But now the deadline has been pushed back 19 months to May 3, 2023.

“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.” 

What is the big deal about REAL ID?

After the terrorist hijackings on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Real ID act with the idea of adding extra layers of security to the driver’s licenses and other identification documents travelers show when seeking to board an airplane.

Many states have had a hard time (or were opposed to) meeting the stricter requirements, so enacting the law has been delayed many times already.

Now, if nothing else causes the READ ID deadline to be pushed back yet again, beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification (such as a passport) at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.  

How do you know if you have a driver’s license that’s REAL ID compliant? In most states, there is a star in the upper, right hand corner. To see what the procedure is in your state, check the DHS REAL ID page.

Flying from China? You’ll now be routed through one of these airports. And maybe quarantined.

The World Health Organization is trying to educate the public about the coronavirus and precautions to take to avoid getting it while traveling.

Meanwhile, airlines and the Department of Homeland Security are taking few chances.

Many U.S. and international airlines have already canceled flights to and from China and Hong Kong.

And on Sunday, DHS issued a notice that limits the airports that can accept anyone traveling from China or who has traveled to China within the last 14 days.

“Americans flying to the United States from China will be re-routed to the following airports at no cost to the traveler,” DHS announced.

On Sunday evening these airports were on the list:

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia

DHS said is adding three airports to the list on Monday: Newark-Liberty (EWR), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) and Detroit Metropolitan (DTW).

“At these eleven airports, the United States Government has established enhanced screening procedures and the capacity to quarantine passengers, if needed,” DHS stated.

DHS says the overall risk to the American public remains low. But it says “funneling all flights with passengers who have recently been in China is the most important and prudent step we can take at this time to decrease the strain.”

Also: DHS announced that it will quarantine for 14 days any U.S. citizens who have been in Hubei province within 14 days of their return. Wuhan, the hot center of virus cases, is in Hubei province.

In another major move, DHS said “foreign nationals (other than immediate family of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and flight crew) who have traveled in China within 14 days of their arrival, will now be denied entry into the United States.

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.