TSA to stop accepting some states' drivers licenses in 2018

Airline passengers in five states and a U.S. territory will be unable to present their current driver's licenses at airport checkpoints after Jan. 22, 2018, under new rules announced on Friday by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Homeland Security department, which overseas the TSA, said it would begin enforcing a post-Sept. 11 law that directs federal agencies to only accept state-issued identifications that meet federal security standards that were enacted in 2005. 

Most states have either adopted the more secure driver's licenses, known as REAL IDs, or have plans to do so later this year. But Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington state and American Samoa have not moved to make their driver's licenses compliant with the new federal standard, meaning airline passengers from those states will have to present other forms of identification at TSA checkpoints. 

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday that states will have two years to bring their driver's licenses and identifications up to code before the new mandate takes effect. 

"Bottom line up front: Effective January 22, 2018, air travelers with a driver’s license or identification card issued by a state that does not meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act (unless that state has been granted an extension to comply with the Act) must present an alternative form of identification acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in order to board a commercial domestic flight," he said in a statement. 

"Over the next two years, those states that are not REAL ID compliant are strongly encouraged to meet the requirements of the law for the benefit of their residents," Johnson continued, noting that Congress directed the TSA to make the identification change more than a decade ago and aviation safety is still a big concern. 

"The overall goal of the REAL ID Act passed by Congress is to prevent the fraudulent issuance and use of driver’s licenses and identification cards, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the American public," he said. "Given today’s threat environment, this requirement is as relevant now as it was when the 9/11 Commission recommended it." 

Aviation groups praised the Homeland Security department for giving states extra time to make their identification cards compliant with the new federal standard. 

“ACI-NA and its member U.S. airports applaud the decision by DHS to provide a reasonable timeframe prior to requiring passengers to present identification from a REAL ID compliant state in order to travel on commercial aircraft,” Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) President Kevin Burke said in a statement. 

“Through its decision to provide a two-year implementation timeframe, DHS clearly recognized the importance of minimizing the potential impact on the traveling public," Burke continued. "ACI-NA and its member airports look forward to ongoing coordination with DHS and the Transportation Security Administration to advance initiatives to educate travelers and help to ensure a reasonable implementation of REAL ID requirements.”

Tourism groups urged the TSA to work out a solution with the non-complaint states to ensure that airline passengers who have identifications from those places are not prohibited from flying, even as the praised the agency for delaying the mandate for two years, however.

"Having a hard deadline for Real ID compliance is almost a relief for travelers—the growing misinformation was not helping anyone," U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Jonathan Grella said.

"Rendering many Americans’ drivers’ licenses insufficient for travel would obviously have a chilling effect on our economy and way of life, but we’re hopeful and confident that states and the federal government will solve these issues well before sending us over that precipice," he continued. "Striking the correct balance between security and convenience is not and should not be a zero-sum policymaking game."

Johnson said Friday that every airline passenger will have to show a REAL ID-compliant identification at TSA checkpoints by Oct. 1, 2020. 

"Right now, no individual needs to adjust travel plans, or rush out to get a new driver’s license or a passport for domestic air travel. Until January 22, 2018, residents of all states will still be able to use a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for domestic air travel," he said.

"Passengers can also continue to use any of the various other forms of identification accepted by TSA (such as a Passport or Passport Card, Global Entry card, U.S. military ID, airline or airport-issued ID, federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID)," Johnson continued. "Travelers are encouraged to check the REAL ID compliance status of their state on the DHS website and review TSA’s list of acceptable forms of identification. Travelers may also check with their state’s driver’s licensing agency about how to acquire a REAL ID compliant license." 

Johnson said the non-complaint states will eventually have to comply with the 2005 identification law, however.

"We know that some states must change their laws to comply with the REAL ID Act. That is why we have determined to set the timetable above, and have provided extensions to several states," he said. 

"I urge state government leaders to take immediate action to comply with the REAL ID Act, to ensure the continued ability of their residents to fly unimpeded," Johnson concluded. "It is time to move toward final compliance with this law." 

This story was updated at 5:31 p.m.