Airports warn of chaos with looming Real ID license deadline

Tom Costello

WASHINGTON — The nation's airports are warning of chaos for passengers if the White House doesn't postpone the looming Real ID deadline.

The law requires airline passengers to present a Real ID-compliant driver's license or ID card at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in airports as of Oct. 1. Those licenses require more proof of identification than regular licenses and are generally marked with a star on the top.

But while states have already issued 95 million Real IDs, that represents just 34 percent of the total, leaving two-thirds of the country with about seven months to get them if they hope to use a license to board a plane.

Without a Real ID, airline passengers will be required to present a passport, military ID or Global Entry card to pass through security, even for domestic flights.

The Airports Council International-North America, which represents the nation's airports, warned that thousands of passengers could be denied boarding and left stranded.

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke told NBC News that "this is a crisis waiting to happen."

"If the government doesn't make a definitive statement now that they're going to extend this, then we're going to have a real crisis on our hands come Oct. 1," he said.

Congress passed the Real ID law after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to create a single, robust national standard for all states and territories.

Across the country, motor vehicle offices have been flooded with people trying to upgrade to Real IDs. Everyone is required to present four pieces of identification, including a passport or a birth certificate, a Social Security card or a tax return and two documents that provide proof of residence — a mortgage or a rental receipt and a utility bill.

To handle the rush, state motor vehicle offices have staffed up and are allowing people to make appointments to present their documents for review.

But many states say they're overwhelmed and can't keep up.

Sue Fulton, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, said, "Demand outstrips the number of available Real ID appointments."

Oklahoma officials say only a handful of DMV offices will begin issuing Real IDs on April 30. The rest of the state will follow over the summer.

Oregon authorities said it will take until July before they're able to issue the first new IDs.

"If we worked 24/7, we'd have to do seven a minute to get the number of licenses out by October. But there's no way that we could do seven a minute," Tom Fuller, a spokesman for the state transportation department, said.

Oregon is now urging residents to get a passport card or book, saying the process will be far quicker.

Kaiya Arroyo, standing in line at a Manhattan DMV office Tuesday, said: "It's packed in there. The line is out the door. People are very upset, frustrated."

Eric Silver added: "It's pretty chaotic. There's just — people are everywhere. It's impossible to know when you're going to go up."

Asked for a response to the Airports Council's demand for a delay, the White House declined to comment. So far, the Department of Homeland Security has given no indication that it's open to a delay, although it is considering options to speed the verification process.

With the clock ticking to the Real ID deadline, travel pros are urging airline passengers to upgrade their licenses as soon as possible or plan on using passports, military IDs or Global Entry cards starting Oct. 1.

CORRECTION (Feb. 27, 2020 3:13 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated how long it takes Washington state residents to get some official documents. State officials say that it would be faster to get an enhanced driver's license or enhanced ID than it would to get the REAL ID, not that getting a passport would be faster than getting REAL ID.