Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In less than a year, five states' driver's licenses become invalid for domestic air travel

This article, originally published on Dec. 24, 2016, was updated Jan. 24, 2017.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will no longer accept the standard state-issued driver’s licenses issued by five states as valid identification at U.S. airports starting Jan. 22, 2018.

As those who visited the nation's airports over the holiday season may have noticed, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has posted signs advising of the coming change.

TSA sign at Sacramento advising of revised ID requirements in 2018
TSA advisory at Sacramento Airport (SMF)
Starting Jan. 22, 2018, residents of five states will need an alternative form of identification to fly. As of this update, the states of Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana and Washington have processes for issuing standard driver's licenses that do not comply with a provision of a federal law passed in 2005.

Signs posted at TSA checkpoint initially listed nine states that were non-compliant. Since their posting, four states have either become compliant or requested extensions of the deadline to become compliant.

Part of Public Law 109-13 passed by the 109th Congress is called the REAL ID Act of 2005. It mandates that states and territory must require proof of U.S. citizenship or proof that a person has been “lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence in the United States” before issuing a driver’s license or state ID card for those documents to be considered acceptable for “official federal purposes.”

One of those official federal purposes is “boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.”

The states named by the TSA do not meet those criteria sufficiently and have not requested special dispensation, so their driver’s licenses will not be accepted as valid ID for boarding aircraft starting Jan. 22, 2018.

Available alternatives 

Of those five states, Minnesota and Washington issue "enhanced driver's licences," for which states confirm the identity and citizenship of the holder. EDLs are acceptable alternatives to a passport for re-entry into the U.S. via land or sea, and are considered acceptable ID under the REAL ID Act for domestic air travel. International air travel will still require a U.S. passport.

In addition to more stringent documentation requirements, EDLs cost a bit more than standard driver’s licenses. Accordingly, states may issue both standard licenses, which may not be compliant with the REAL ID Act, and EDLs, which are compliant.

Washington state, one of the states named as non-compliant with regard to standard driver’s licenses, issues both standard and EDLs and that is, in a measure, deliberate. Part of the thought process around the state’s prior decision not to require proof of citizenship for a standard driver’s license was that it was better to have people who may not be in the U.S. legally prove their familiarity with prevailing traffic laws by passing a driver’s exam than the alternative of having unlicensed and potentially uninformed drivers on the state’s roads. However, the matter has been re-introduced in the 2017 legislature to revisited in the months ahead.

As of this writing, a U.S. passport costs $110 for adults and is good for 10 years. First-time applicants will also be assessed a $25 processing fee. Enhanced driver's licenses in Washington state cost $108 for the first issuance and are good for six years, which is $54 more than a standard driver's license.

On an annual basis, the cost is about the same for a passport and an EDL. A passport costs $11 per year while an EDL costs $9 additional per year over a standard driver's license. Because EDLs only allow international travel to Canada or Mexico by land or sea, anyone who plans to travel internationally would do well to consider obtaining or renewing their U.S. passport.  The additional flexibility it provides is well worth an additional $2 per year.

Other forms of acceptable ID are a U.S. passport card; a passport issued by a foreign government; DHS trusted traveler cards including Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST; U.S. military ID for active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians; permanent resident card; border crossing card; airline or airport-issued ID if issued under a TSA-approved security plan; federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID; Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card; transportation worker identification credential or Immigration and Naturalization Service Employment Authorization Card (I-766), among others, according to the TSA website.

A final note

Pre-check security line at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle
Security line at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle
While it has not heretofore been required in the United States, requiring proof of citizenship for air travel is not without precedent elsewhere. During our trip to Canada in 2015, all passengers boarding flights from Toronto to Montréal, and from Montréal to Vancouver had to show passports or other proof of citizenship, even though the flights were domestic flights entirely within the borders of Canada.

For additional background, please see my previous post on the topic.

Visit my main page at TravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
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