Citing the potential for “mass confusion, chaos and delays” at U.S. airports starting Oct. 1, members of Congress last week introduced legislation to head off travel disruption caused by the Real ID deadline. 

Travel organizations, which have been sounding the alarm about a potential travel nightmare resulting from the new ID laws, applauded the bill, although with the deadline just eight months out, they wondered if it amounted to too little, too late. 

The Trusted Traveler Real ID Relief Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), would allow TSA Precheck membership to serve as a temporary alternative to a Real ID at domestic airports, enable people to apply for the IDs online and create a plan for the TSA to vet people who show up without Real IDs. 

On the Record

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) introduced legislation to mitigate travel disruption caused by the Oct. 1 Real ID deadline. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Lesko about what she said could be a "total nightmare" on Oct. 1. Read More

The U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America and ASTA applauded the bill. 

“We are very concerned about the unintended impacts that this law will have on travel agency clients and the broader travel community,” said Genevieve Strand, ASTA’s director of advocacy. “The potential for disruption at security checkpoints is significant. We’ve seen estimates that as many as 500,000 passengers per week could be turned away.”

U.S. Travel data shows that 57% of Americans remain unaware of the Oct. 1 deadline, and an estimated 99 million Americans do not have a Real ID or alternative form of accepted identification, such as a U.S. passport, military ID or Global Entry card that will allow them to pass through airport checkpoints after Oct. 1. 

“If travelers can’t get on their flight, they won’t be staying at the hotel they’ve booked, taking the cruise they’ve planned or making that important business meeting,” Strand said. “The repercussions on the wider travel economy could be significant.”

ASTA is encouraging members to ensure their clients are aware and prepared for the deadline. It has developed a Real ID toolkit for members and has hosted several webinars on the subject with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the TSA. The next one is scheduled for March 26.

Dave Hershberger, owner of Prestige Travel in Cincinnati and ASTA’s chairman, said all Prestige email signatures include bold, red-letter messages about the Real ID deadline. He predicted that the Real ID laws “could be very disruptive,” not for frequent travelers or corporate ones, which make up about 70% of his business, “but for the people who don’t travel very often, and grandma dies in California, and they have to leave on a flight tomorrow. They’re not going to be able to go.”

With offices in both Ohio and Kentucky, Hershberger said he is seeing a significant state-by-state difference in readiness. Ohio has been issuing Real IDs since July 2018, whereas Kentucky currently has only four locations statewide where they can be acquired.

“I feel a lot more confident with Ohio travelers than with Kentucky travelers,” he said, adding that for Kentuckians who want the Real ID but don’t live near one of those offices, it can take a full day.

He applauded the bill’s provision to allow online applications, given that many people get to the Department of Motor Vehicles and wait in line an hour only to realize they don’t have the right documentation.

“If they can submit it online ahead of time and know what they’re missing, when they show up they can at least expedite that process,” Hershberger said. “It’d be a huge benefit.” 

ASTA’s advocacy

Finding a cosponsor for Lesko’s bill was among the issues ASTA members lobbied Congress about earlier this month during its annual Legislative Day blitz on Capitol Hill. 

ASTA said that member meetings with Rep. Murphy’s office on Feb. 4 were critical in getting her to become the lead Democrat on the bill. In a statement, Murphy said that the Real ID laws could “significantly impact Florida, a year-round tourist destination.” 

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support for Royal Caribbean International was part of ASTA’s Florida delegation that met with Murphy’s office. 

“I think our entire industry needs to be concerned about the Real ID, including Royal,” Freed said. “While most people who cruise have passports, there are certain cruises where a birth certificate and ID is enough to board. If someone is flying in and is denied boarding on their flight due to a noncompliant driver’s license, they are likely to lose their cruise vacation.”

Given that the deadline is only eight months out, ASTA is hopeful the bill will mobilize TSA and other stakeholders to get out the word and focus on public education and awareness. 

U.S. Travel is also engaging its members in an educational campaign through social media, website pages and on-property activities. For example, some major hotel brands are working to inform guests about Real ID by incorporating messages into booking confirmations and pre-arrival communications, said U.S. Travel executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes.

“We are coordinating with other associations so we are all speaking to the public with a united and consistent message,” Barnes said. 

U.S. Travel commended Lesko’s bill for requiring that TSA Precheck membership be an alternative to having a Real ID, which the organization has long advocated.

“The process and documentation required to enroll in TSA Precheck and biometric screening programs are more thorough and secure than the process to receive a Real ID,” Barnes said. 

As encouraging as the bill is, some hope it’s not coming too late. 

Hershberger said, “I’m somewhat concerned that it’s mid-February and this legislation is just being introduced. I think it’s highly unlikely that it will be out in a timely manner to make a significant change. But who knows? Even if it’s a month before it happens, it will give us some additional protection.”

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