Will I need a passport for domestic travel in the U.S. in 2016?


Four states and one U.S. territory have driver licenses that don’t measure up to the Department of Homeland Security’s standards.

But what does that mean for travelers from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire and American Samoa? Particularly those who are part of the group of approximately 62% of Americans who don’t hold a passport?

At this point, not much.

But that isn’t stopping speculation that soon travelers from those states will have to produce a U.S. passport or other additional documentation to take a domestic flight.

The issue at hand is a Homeland Security program called REAL ID, which is meant to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The five states mentioned above issue licenses that have been deemed “noncompliant.”

That means that the licenses do not meet “minimum standards” that would “improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents,” which is intended to “inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification.”

Noncompliant driver licenses and identification cards would not be accepted for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, according to Homeland Security. According to the DHS, that change would go into effect no sooner than 2016.

In government terms, “no sooner” typically means definitely not that year, maybe not the year after — but possibly the year after that.

There is no official agreement yet about what would happen for travelers who only have noncompliant state-issued identification.

States that are noncompliant could get their manure together, informing travelers that they will soon be subject to a deadline to get a better ID, or some other possibility. But the New York State DMV doesn’t know: A spokesman told WKBW Buffalo that it had received no guidance from federal authorities.

If this comes to pass, and those five kinds of driver licenses become essentially useless at the airport, then travelers would need an “acceptable” second form of ID, which includes passports, passport cards, permanent resident cards, U.S. military IDs, and Global Entry and NEXUS cards.

But here’s the other thing: It is possible to fly without an ID. No, really, I swear.

Travelers will get to know a TSA agent or two real well, but they won’t automatically be barred from getting on a plane.

“You’ll be able to fly as long as you provide us with some information that will help us determine you are who you say you are,” wrote Bob Burns on the TSA Blog.

So if you’re looking for something to complain about in terms of air travel, focus on the extra fees, and not the ID requirements.


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Ronald K. Noble is the founder of RKN Global and currently serves as one of its principal consultants.