[Updated March 24, 2020 at 1:00 PM EST]
We are so close to the final enforcement of the REAL ID Act. This deadline has been postponed as the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in unexpected delays. While to new date will be announced "very soon," the REAL ID Act is a long time coming. However, there is still a good amount of confusion surrounding the rules and enforcement of the REAL ID law.
As travel agents, it is imperative that you become an expert on these rules so that you are best able to educate your clients and ensure that they experience a smooth travel experience. So, here is a quick primer of everything you and your travelers need to know.
What is the REAL ID Act?
Passed by Congress in 2005 in response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Act requires that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” As part of this, the Act established minimum security standards for state-issued drivers' licenses and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting identification cards that do not meet those standards. One place where this will be enforced is during the process of boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft.
What exactly is happening once it goes into effect?
Basically, if you are planning to fly on or after the deadline (of which the date is still TBD), you need a REAL ID compliant identification card or your passport. By that date, all states must be issuing REAL ID compliant drivers' licenses and ID cards and any person wishing to travel on a commercial aircraft (without bringing their passport) will need to have a REAL ID compliant card on hand.
REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card. If you’re not sure, contact your state driver’s license agency on how to obtain a REAL ID compliant card.
Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. State-issued enhanced driver's licenses do not have a star on the top of the card. Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect, so if you live in one of those states it is possible that you will not have to get an updated ID card.
If you go to the airport without REAL ID compliant identification or another acceptable form of ID on or after the deadline, you won't be allowed past the security checkpoint. So, definitely don't make that mistake!
Can a REAL ID be used for anything other than domestic travel?
Nope. You'll still need your passport if you're flying internationally or boarding a cruise.
How can I educate and prepare my clients?
Reach out to them as soon as possible! Don't assume your clients have been made aware of these changes; it can be so easy for a big piece of information like this to sleep through the cracks. Your travelers look to you as a travel expert, so take this opportunity to make yourself invaluable.
Luckily, the federal government has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Check out this great factsheet the TSA put together, as one example. There's also this FAQ page from the Department of Homeland Security, which is full of helpful information. Sending a factsheet or a more personalized message to your clients is an easy way to impress them with your forward thinking and your care for their future travel experiences.