REAL ID update: DHS announces enforcement date for air travel

January 8, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced REAL ID Act enforcement for air travel at commercial airports will begin in January 2018 for states that are not compliant with REAL ID or do not have and compliance extension, which is good news for travelers in our state who were concerned REAL ID enforcement would impact upcoming travel plans. DHS also released a Question and Answer document to help address questions many people have how this will impact air travel in our country.

DOL is currently working with state policy makers to assess how this announcement will impact our plans for moving forward. As a reminder, our state’s Enhanced Driver Licenses and Enhanced ID Cards are federally approved for entering federal buildings and for air travel under the REAL ID Act. Please note: increased demand for these documents in recent months has resulted in higher wait times in some of our driver licensing offices. If you are planning to get an enhanced document, you can check the current wait time in the office you plan to visit on the DOL website.

This means Washington state residents will be able to continue to use their standard driver licenses and ID cards to board all domestic commercial flights until enforcement begins in January 2018. After that, it will become important for Washington travelers to ensure they have acceptable identification, which could include a Washington State Enhanced Driver License or Enhanced ID Card, a valid U.S. or foreign Passport, a U.S. Passport Card or one of several other types of federally approved forms of identification.

The federal implementation of the REAL ID Act—passed by Congress in 2005—has been a long process. REAL ID requires states to issue driver licenses and ID cards to meet federal requirements to be accepted as proof of identity at certain secure federal facilities and, starting January 2018, for boarding commercial airline flights.

REAL ID was passed by Congress in 2005 and has seen a number of implementation delays. Washington is among 24 states that have been operating with a REAL ID compliance extension because our regular driver licenses and ID cards do not meet all 41 different REAL ID requirements. In October, 2015, DHS denied our state’s request for another compliance extension which makes Washington state subject to the REAL ID enforcement schedule.

Over the past several years, Washington’s driver licenses and ID cards have met many of the REAL ID requirements (21 out of 41) by adopting national best practices for driver license and ID card security—done regardless of the REAL ID Act. Washington is one of five states that issue Enhanced Driver Licenses and ID cards, which are valid for federal purposes.