Twelve years since Congress passed it, the Real ID Act is getting real. Two months before the new federal security rules take effect at U.S. airports, travel managers are finding lots of confusion. That’s why travel management companies are encouraging clients to spread the message about the potential impact.

Conceived after 9/11 as a way to make state-issued IDs more secure, Real ID already covers entry into most federal facilities. Come Jan. 22, 2018, it will apply to commercial aviation. Barring more implementation delays, from that date travelers from U.S. states and territories deemed noncompliant will not be allowed to use driver’s licenses to clear airport security. As it stands, 11 neither achieved compliance nor received an extension: American Samoa, Guam, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Image: U.S. Transportation Security Administration

The easy way around for travelers from those places is to use passports at airport security. Problem is, the U.S. State Department expects a record number of passport applications this year. That’s partly because of impending Real ID. The crunch could slow processing times. “It is best to apply early and to take advantage of lower wait times September through December,” according to the State Department.

“Given the usual four- to six-week U.S. passport processing time, it is critical that travelers submit a passport application or renewal as soon as possible,” according to a statement from Michael Savicki, American Express Global Business Travel compliance and risk VP. “Travelers who cut things short — especially those who realize a country they are flying to has a six-month validity rule  — may need to employ a passport expedition service. For travel managers, we’d encourage you to get the word out to your travelers.”

Not all companies reimburse for passport-related expenses.

Fox World Travel last week on its website posted the same call to action: “Fox encourages travel managers to share this information with their travelers via their usual communication channels. Encourage travelers to check the compliance status often of their state or territory.”

Even travelers from compliant states or those using passports at airport security should take note. On its site, AmTrav wrote, “If you already build in extra time for potential travel snafus, you might want to add a good 10 minutes onto that buffer to allow for the confused travelers who are likely not ready for the Jan. 22 deadline and will be arguing with the TSA agents.”

Full implementation of Real ID still is scheduled for Oct. 1, 2020. From then on, every domestic U.S. air traveler will need a Real ID-compliant license or other acceptable identification.

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