Department of Homeland Security Taps Travel Agents as Real ID Deadline Nears

by Cheryl Rosen
Department of Homeland Security Taps Travel Agents as Real ID Deadline Nears

REAL ID Rules will impact most travelers in just 20 monthsPhoto: Shutterstock.

Uncle Sam needs your help – and your travelers might, too, DHS said. It’s time to begin asking your customers if they have Real ID-compliant identification, and adding a reminder to all bookings for travel beginning October 2020.

In just 20 months, the rules for flying out of any U.S. airport will undergo their biggest change ever — and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is calling on the travel industry to help keep air travelers moving.

“The big issue we have is, do people know this dramatic change is coming, and will it affect all airports simultaneously? The last thing we want is for consumers to show up at the airport and not be allowed to board their flights,” said Steve Yonkers, director of identity and credentialing for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in a conference call sponsored by the USTOA. “So, we are trying to work with state and federal government agencies and members of the travel industry” to get the word out.

Passed by Congress in 2005, the Real ID Act set stricter standards for identifying recipients of identification, such as driver’s licenses, and requires that travelers on airlines in the U.S. show ID that is compliant with the new regulations. States have been upgrading their systems to meet the new requirements over the years — but now the final deadline, Oct. 1, 2020, is within the booking window of many travelers.

Two months from now, 18 months ahead of the Real ID deadline, DHS will ramp up its communications efforts to make sure the public knows and understands the new rules, and will begin to call on travel advisors to help spread the word, Yonkers said.

Tips from the Q&A
Travel industry players asked some interesting questions during the USTOA conference call. Here are some things you might not know.

You do not need a driver’s license at all to clear airport security. Passports, military IDs and Global Entry cards, for example, are perfectly acceptable. (When my driver’s license came up for renewal in New York this summer, there was a four-hour wait to show my birth certificate to a motor vehicles employee so I could get a Real ID-compliant license. Since I already have a Global Entry card, I just got a non-compliant license instead.)

Travelers under the age of 18 do not require identification, as they will be covered by the ID of the adults with whom they travel.

Getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license requires showing a birth certificate or passport, so the name on some licenses might change. For travel agents, that means taking a moment to ensure that travelers’ licenses, passports and airline reservations all have the exact same name.

The role of travel agents
Beginning in April, Yonkers said, DHS will move into a new phase of communicating with the public — and Uncle Sam is counting on the travel agent community to help spread the word.

“We have a Real ID website, but we are looking to do a lot more,” Yonkers said. “We’ll be pushing signage specific to the deadline into TSA checkpoints and producing a video, and there is a general public contact email at

“But the biggest effort is really from the industry standpoint,” Yonkers said. “We don’t want the consumer to be surprised; the more information we can get in front of them, the better. We’ll be putting together a marketing campaign very soon, and as we get closer, you’ll see more messaging from us and information that you can start to push out. And, if you are creating interesting content, we’d like to use it. Anything we can do to join forces, we’re interested. We want to make it easy for everyone.”

Addressing travel advisors, Yonkers said DHS already has had a number of conversations with ASTA and is now “getting ready to reach out to [agency] groups [i.e., consortia, host agencies and OTAs]. Our goal is to establish working relationships so that as we develop information, we can pass it on, and use you to get it into the hands of the consumer.”

Tip of the Day

“There is no way you can be an expert in all areas, so invest in yourself to know the destinations and products you decide to sell. Find a system that works for you and then duplicate it.” - Lindsay Foerster, Travel Advisor

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