Millions Could Be Turned Away When They Show Up For Flights; Real ID Deadline Looms

Most Americans -- nearly three out of four -- are not ready for the October 1, 2020 deadline when full enforcement of REAL ID for air travel kicks-in, and millions could be prevented from boarding their planes because they do not have the required identification.

Those are the highlights of a new study released on Thursday by the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group,  that found that more than half of Americans (57%) said they did not know about the upcoming deadline and 72% said they either do not have a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or are unsure if they do.

“Our survey gave us the answer we didn't want to hear: that there is an alarming lack of awareness and preparedness a short year out from REAL ID going into full effect," Roger Dow, president and chief executive of U.S. Travel, said in a statement. "This is significant not only because it will inconvenience travelers and create confusion at U.S. airports—it could do significant damage to our nation's economy."

Next October the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will legally require air travelers 18 years of age and older to present a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or other approved form of identification to board a flight.

The survey, conducted for U.S. Travel by Longwoods International, a market research consultancy, also noted that many Americans -- about 39 % or an estimated 99 million Americans -- said they do not have any form of identification that will be accepted as an alternative to REAL ID-compliant, state-issued driver's licenses—like a U.S. passport.

The potential economic impact could be huge: at least 78,500 air travelers could be turned away at TSA checkpoints on the first day, costing the U.S. economy $40.3 million in lost travel-related spending. The weekly loss, based on more than half a million (549,500) air travelers prevented from boarding planes, would grow to $282 million, according to U.S. Travel economists estimates.

The association launched a broad initiative to help travelers and the industry get ready. Efforts include a toolkit of resources and a series of policy recommendations. For example, one proposal is to modernize the current statute to allow for mobile and web-based REAL ID applications and to permit the TSA to accept mobile or digital REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses, which would reduce DMV backlogs and increase checkpoint efficiency.

“We need all hands on deck to avert a big problem next October," Dow added.

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