A simple drivers license might not be sufficient to board U.S. domestic flights and trips to U.S. territories such as the Virgin Islands starting in the fall of 2020, and although the deadline may seem far off for now, some travel advisors are warning their clients to start thinking ahead.

The implementation of the Real ID law has been pushed back numerous times since Congress passed it in 2005, but starting in October of 2020, flyers will be required to present either a passport or Real ID-compliant drivers license or state identification to fly within the U.S.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have already begun issuing the new licenses so residents of those states must obtain a new version of the driver’s licenses before the October 2020 deadline.

Even if residents of those states have drivers licenses that aren’t set to expire until after the deadline, they must get a new one if they want to fly.

Residents of the other states that have yet to begin printing updates Real ID licenses can present their old-school licenses through October 11, 2020 to get on a plane, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Extensions

There are a number of noncompliant states that have not been granted extensions to print the new licenses, and residents of those states must show a passport or other form of ID to board a flight.

The Real ID law also impacts travel to territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

“It’s an important conversation to talk about, to start thinking about,” said David Slivken, a travel advisor with Huckleberry Travel in Brooklyn, New York. “I expect this, as we get closer we will be more proactive with direct conversations with clients as they are putting plans together.”

Huckleberry Travel has already begun writing about the issue on its website and has been encouraging people to make sure they have the updated licenses through a social media campaign.

“We do encourage people to be proactive in making sure that they have updated identification for travel,” Slivken said. “I don’t think we are at the point where its so imminent that we are really going out of our way to push customers to get them, but it’s something that comes up pretty often when talking to people.”

Those who aren’t sure whether their drivers license of ID is already a Real ID can check the top right-hand corner of the ID for a small star. If there is a star, the ID is compliant.

A map illustrating which states are already compliant, and which have been granted an extension is available on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. It appears as though all states and territories have been granted an extension if they weren’t already compliant.

“It has been on my radar,” said Jennifer Scanlon, who runs Buffalo New York-based Barefoot Global Travel. “You have to, as a travel advisor, help people realize things they need in terms of paperwork and visa etc. It comes in the same category that you need to have the right paperwork.”

Once the law goes into effect, flyers with passports will be able to use that as identification rather than get a new license.

Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. The purpose was to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards.

For now, there is no alarm, but it is something agents need to start thinking about, Slivken said.

“It’s mostly stuff that we are trying to put out as a PSA (Public Service Announcement) more than anything else at this point.”

Photo Credit: In 2020, security officials at U.S. airports will be checking to see if travelers have Real ID-compliant driver's licenses. Bloomberg