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Deadline for Real ID for air travel pushed back because of pandemic

The deadline was supposed to be Oct. 1, but the Department of Homeland Security is extending it because the pandemic made it harder for motorists to go to their DMVs.
Air travel drops due to COVID-19
A Transportation Security Administration agent checks travelers through security at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2021.MediaNews Group / via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security will delay the requirement for air travelers to have a Real ID-compliant form of identification, pushing it back 19 months, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday.

The deadline was supposed to be Oct. 1, but it's now being postponed until May 3, 2023. Similar delays in the past have been the result of a lack of full state compliance with the requirements for issuing the more secure driver’s licenses. But this time, it’s because of the pandemic, these officials say, which made it harder for people to get into state motor vehicle departments and get the new IDs.

"Extending the Real ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a Real ID-compliant license or identification card,” Mayorkas said.

Real ID compliant cards are issued after a more thorough check of an applicant's identification and incorporate new security features that make them harder to counterfeit. Under the Real ID Act, passed by Congress after the terrorist hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, travelers 18 or older wanting to board an airplane by using a driver's license for identification must have one that conforms with the law's stricter requirements.

The new licenses have a star on the upper right-hand corner.

The requirement was delayed repeatedly over the past decade, at first because states said they were not prepared for the new rules. It was set to kick in last year.

But DHS postponed the effective date after the Covid pandemic made it harder for drivers to get to local motor vehicle departments. Now it is being delayed again for the same reason.

DHS said many state licensing agencies have shifted to appointment-only scheduling during the pandemic, limiting their capacity to issue the new licenses. As a result, only 43 percent of all state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards are Real ID-compliant.

Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said before leaving office that 114 million Americans had a compliant license and that all 50 states were issuing them. But while some states had issued Real IDs to 90 percent of their residents, others managed to get them to less than 25 percent, he said.