Real ID: Why you might soon need a passport even for domestic flights

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham is sounding the alarm about a looming barrier to air travel in a couple of months.

Illinois residents may need a passport to board even domestic flights as the federal government weighs an extension for Illinois to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005.

The act came onto the books as part of the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to implement federal standards for the issuance of IDs, including driver's licenses. But implementation lagged, with many states decrying federal overreach and fears about creation of a national database of driver's licenses being an invasion of privacy. The federal government is not creating such a database as only the standards come from the federal government; the actual issuance of driver's licenses is still a state duty.

Illinois residents who have tried to renew their licenses in recent months have already experienced the change of receiving a temporary paper ID while waiting for their full driver's license to arrive by mail. The switch to a central location for the issuance of driver's licenses is part of complying with the federal law.

There are other security enhancements on the ID itself that Illinois is missing. Those upgrades will make creating fake licenses more difficult.

Illinois was already operating under an extension to come into compliance. That extension expired Oct. 10, but there is a grace period to Jan. 22, 2018. At that point, Illinois residents will not be able to use a state driver's license to board an airplane. The Transportation Security Agency will not accept the current Illinois driver's license or state ID as valid identification.

Illinois is not alone in this problem. Only 26 states and the District of Columbia have achieved compliance, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website. A total of 17 states are operating under a compliance extension. And seven states, including Illinois, are under review to see if they've made adequate progress to warrant another extension.

A spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state's office recently told the State Journal-Register there is no reason to expect Illinois will not receive another extension to October 2018. But Cunningham urged people with travel plans near the Jan. 22 deadline to get a jump start on their passport applications just in case the Trump administration has different plans for Illinois.

"Having a valid passport will ensure you are able to board your airplane and not get stuck on the wrong side of the security checkpoint," Cunningham said.

First-time applicants for a passport must apply in person at the clerk's office, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Building B, in Geneva. The office is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday except Wednesday when the office closes at 7 p.m.

Passports are only one of the forms of ID that will be acceptable for air travel if you don't have a Real ID driver's license. A U.S. Department of Defense ID, DHS trusted traveler cards and permanent resident cards are among the other forms of ID also accepted.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.