You may have noticed new TSA signs at the airport recently. It reads "starting January 22, 2018, you will need a driver's license or ID form a state compliant with the REAL ID Act, astate that has extension for compliance, or an alternate ID to fly."
What does that even mean?
Drafted in 2005 in the wake of the September 11th attacks, President George W. Bush signed the REAL ID Act. It is intended to ensure driver's licenses were more uniform from state to state and more difficult to forge. It gave the states more than a decade to "establish minimum security standards for state issued driver's licenses and identification cards". However, this time has run out now for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft. Starting January 22nd 2018, only IDs from a state in compliance with the REAL ID Act or an extension will be accepted when boarding an airplane in the U.S. for domestic flights.
So why should you care?
Currently, 24 states are still not in compliance with the REAL ID Act, according to information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA (for a full map, see https://www.dhs.gov/realid). This means that as of January 22, 2018, passengers from those states may not board an aircraft with their driver's license being the only form of identification provided. Passengers will need to have some kind of alternative identification, the most common being passports and military IDs (for a full list of acceptable forms of ID, see https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification). For now, all of the noncompliant states have an extension until October 10, 2017. If the extension does not get prolonged, January 22, 2018, will be the deadline for those states. Regardless, even if the extension gets renewed, starting October 1, 2020, REAL ID compliant licenses are the only form of valid identification for domestic air travel.
Why are certain IDs not compliant with the act?
Using South Carolina as an example, the state actively fought against the REAL ID Act. As thengovernor Mark Sanford stated: "The act clearly violates the Founders' intent in offering the 10th Amendment, which states that all powers not given to the federal government are given to the people or the states". He also cited the costs of $17 billion to implement the law, which he considered an unfunded federal mandate. Therefore, in 2007, South Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that forbid the state from complying with the act. On the other hand, states like Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Washington offer enhanced driver's licenses, which are compliant with the REAL ID Act. Still other states are in the process of switching to REAL ID compliant licenses.
What does this mean for you?
If you are a resident of one of the compliant states, nothing changes for you. The only form of identification you need for a domestic flight is your driver's license. For residents of a noncompliant state, it is advisable to have a valid passport or other form of acceptable ID ready in case there is no further extension granted. Plan accordingly, since it takes 46 weeks to get a new passport.
When you plan to travel with children, nothing changes for them. TSA does not require children under 18 years old to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.