You landed a great deal on airplane tickets for a family vacation this fall. So you show up at the airport on Oct. 1 with your spouse and three excited kids and lots of luggage.
But when you hand over your boarding pass and driver’s license at the security checkpoint, the Transportation Security Administration screener cuts your vacation short: That’s because you don’t have a “REAL ID" -- a new state driver’s license that meets new federal security standards.
“The officer looks at your license and says, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, that license is no longer valid for you to get through the checkpoint,’” says Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman. “So now you are officially between a rock and a hard place.”
It’s a scenario that airlines, airports and the TSA fear could happen to millions of Americans when the new rules take effect Oct. 1. Travelers 18 years old and older won’t be able to fly unless they have either a REAL ID, an active passport or limited other forms of identification.
“It could cost you thousands of dollars because you could have non-refundable tickets, perhaps you’ve got a prepaid rental car, prepaid hotel,” Farbstein said at an event Friday at the Newport News airport to push for awareness about REAL ID. “It’s just not something you can talk your way out of.”
There are about eight months left for people to get the new ID cards.
“We are facing a reality that time is ticking, and a date is coming,” said Mike Giardino, the executive director of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.
“It’s very important to us as part of that customer experience that people have seamless travel ... and that includes with the checkpoints,” Giardino said. “Sometimes we’re resistant to change as human beings, and for whatever reason people have waited this long. But again, time is ticking."
Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 following a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission.
The 2005 law establishes new standards for the identifications accepted by federal agencies, with states across the country now issuing the REAL IDs.
The new cards have security features embedded into them. They are marked by stars, typically sporting the symbol in the upper right.
”We don’t want to inhibit anybody’s travel," said Chuck Burke, the TSA’s security director for Central Virginia airports. “We want them to fly. We want them to travel in ease, comfort and everything else like that. And so the sooner you get the REAL IDs, the better it will be.”
And Burke warned: “There is no plan, no process, to extend that deadline.”
Aside from passports, certain other documents will be deemed acceptable in lieu of a REAL ID. Those include some Defense Department identification cards, a Department of Homeland Security “trusted traveler” card, foreign passports, a tribal ID card, among others.
But most people will need either valid passports or REAL IDs.
In Virginia, the new IDs are being issued at Department of Motor Vehicles offices around the state.
Because January is traditionally a slow month at the agency, “now is a great time to visit," DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker said at Friday’s event.
“The sooner the better,” she said. “We expect a rush of customers to visit us as we get closer to the enforcement date.”
Virginia was among the states that made REAL ID an optional -- not automatic -- part of getting new driver’s licenses and renewals.
The cards aren’t needed for travel on trains, buses or boats. But people who travel by plane -- even if it’s a rarity -- “will want to have one,” state officials say.
“Even if you don’t think you’re going to use it, it’s probably a good idea to have one," Brubaker said. “My parents don’t fly, but they’ll probably get one in case they win a trip on Kelly and Ryan or something.”
Brubaker said about 40% of Virginia’s 6 million driver’s license holders -- or about 2.6 million people -- will likely need REAL IDs.
A few weeks ago, she said, Virginia just passed the 1 million mark, with 175,000 of those issued in Hampton Roads. That means 1.6 million people need the cards and don’t yet have them.
To get a REAL ID, you must visit the DMV in person rather than online -- and bring documents showing your identity, Social Security number and two proofs of Virginia residence.
That could mean, for example, a birth certificate or valid U.S. passport; a Social Security card or tax documents, such as a W-2, showing the full number; and a valid driver’s license with the current street address plus a recent utility bill.
If your legal name is different from what’s on the documents, Brubaker said, the name change can be proven by a marriage license or court divorce decree.
Virginia birth certificates and state marriage licenses are generally available through the DMV, while new and replacement Social Security cards can be obtained at ssa.gov.
The DMV charges a $10 surcharge for getting the REAL ID on top of other fees. For more information about the required documents, go to dmvNOW.com.
“Why make it hard?” Giardino urged the public on Friday. “I have mine. It’s right here, and it was easy to get and very simple ... We want the travel experience for our passengers to be seamless ... Why wait? Get this done. It’s fast. It’s simple and easy to do.”