Claim:   Residents of some states will no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses as ID for boarding airplanes after 1 January 2016.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2015]

Americans from New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Louisiana and American Samoa will have to carry passports to board domestic flights due to non-compliance of their
drivers’ licenses with the TSA standards. Is this really true?


Origins:   In May 2005, the U.S. Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief Act.” Contained within that legislation was the “Real ID Act,” provisions requiring every state to issue drivers’ licenses that comply with a national


The “Real ID Act” was a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., attacks that were facilitated by 18 of the 19 hijackers’ having obtained fraudulent identification (including U.S. drivers’ licenses) that helped them board the planes they hijacked and flew into the Pentagon and World Trade Center buildings.

The “Real ID Act” mandated that by 11 May 2008, each U.S. state implement systems ensuring that motorists who apply for licenses are who they say they are and do not pose security risks. After that date, persons looking to obtain or renew drivers’ licenses issued by any of the 50 states would have to provide documentation of identity (e.g., birth certificate, passport), documentation of residency address (e.g., utility bills), and documentation showing they are in the United States legally (e.g., birth certificate from a U.S. state or territory, U.S. passport, U.S. permanent residency card).

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security extended the 11 May 2008 deadline to 31 December 2009 for states that both asked for a postponement and provided a compliance plan, and as of the original deadline, all fifty states had either applied for or received extensions.

Numerous states were up in arms about the law, primarily because they maintained that having to vet every holder of a driver’s license would be a lengthy and expensive process, one that would hopelessly snarl their motor vehicle and public safety departments. State officials also expressed concerns about maintaining individuals’ rights to privacy. By the end of 2009, half the states had approved resolutions or legislation proclaiming that they did not want to participate in the program, and bills were introduced into Congress seeking to amend or repeal it.

Real ID enforcement was to be implemented in phases beginning in April 2014, with the final phase (Phase 4) affecting airline travel. After the implementation of that final phase, a driver’s license issued by a state that was not in compliance with the Real ID act would not, by itself, be a sufficient form of identification for boarding commercial aircraft in the U.S.:

Boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft

A driver’s license or identification card from a noncompliant state may only be used in conjunction with a second form of ID for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Towards the end of 2015 press articles began reporting that when the Phase 4 was implemented at the beginning of 2016, persons with driver’s licenses from the handful of states and territories that were still not in compliance with the Real ID act (New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and the American Samoa) would need to use a passport or some other form of accepted ID in order to board commercial aircraft:

Starting in 2016, travelers from four U.S. states will not be able to use their driver’s licenses as ID to board domestic flights — a pretty major development considering an estimated 38 percent of Americans don’t have passports.

The standard licenses from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and American Samoa are considered “noncompliant” with the security standards outlined in the Real ID Act, which was enacted back in 2005 but is being implemented in stages. Why are these specific licenses deemed sub-par? In these five places, getting a license doesn’t require proof of citizenship or residency.

Here’s the breakdown: if you’re from one of these states, “acceptable” IDs include passports and passport cards, as well as permanent resident cards, U.S. military ID, and DHS trusted traveler cards such a Global Entry and NEXUS.

Does this mean that come 1 January 2016, residents of those states will no longer be able to get on board a plane by using driver’s licenses as their ID? Not quite. First of all, enforcement of Phase 4 provisions is officially slated to begin “No sooner than 2016” — the government still hasn’t announced the exact date on which it will take effect. Once enforcement begins there will be a three-month “forgiveness period” during which people with non-compliant licenses will be warned that their IDs are no longer valid for flights but will still be allowed to board aircraft.

Additionally, at least some of the non-compliant states (such as Minnesota) are working to bring their driver’s licenses into compliance with federal regulations and/or have the enforcement of Phase 4 provisions pushed back:

Gov. Mark Dayton on [has] urged legislators to repeal a state law that could prevent Minnesotans from boarding commercial planes with their current driver’s license.

Dayton said in a news conference that the state should comply with the federal REAL ID Act, a 2005 law requiring better security features for state-issued ID cards.

Dayton said he spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “He indicated … that they would come up with an updating of that Jdeadline before the end of this year,” Dayton said.

Additional information:

    REAL ID Final Rule   REAL ID FAQ   (Department of Homeland Security)
    Q&A on Real ID   REAL ID Proposed Guidelines: Questions & Answers   (Department of Homeland Security)

Last updated:   23 September 2015


    Arnoldy, Ben.   “Resistance Rises to US Law That Requires Stricter ID Standards.”

    Christian Science Monitor.   9 February 2007   (p. 1).

    Gaouette, Nicole.   “National ID Requirements Postponed Under Criticism.”

    Los Angeles Times.   2 March 2007   (p. A16).

    Gledhill, Lynda.   “Long Waits Looming for License Renewals.”

    San Francisco Chronicle.   24 July 2006.

    USA Today.   “Time Running Out on Arguments Against Real ID.”

    6 March 2007   (p. A12).