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REAL ID deadline is 1 year away: What you need to know to avoid airport nightmare

The deadline is now less than a year for all Americans to upgrade their driver's licenses to a REAL ID, which will be required to pass through airport security.
/ Source: TODAY

The clock is ticking for all Americans to update to a REAL ID if they plan to fly anywhere a year from now.

The REAL ID law passed by Congress to ensure a minimum security standard for every state driver's license takes effect on Oct. 1, 2020, requiring a REAL ID in place of a current driver's license in order to pass through security at domestic airports.

Tom Costello, who covers aviation for NBC News, outlined on TODAY Wednesday what you need to know in order to get your REAL ID and avoid a potentially uncomfortable and costly trip to the airport.

The deadline for all Americans to upgrade to a REAL ID in order to get through airport security is now less than a year.
The deadline for all Americans to upgrade to a REAL ID in order to get through airport security is now less than a year. TODAY

The Transportation Security Administration is trying to get the word out now to avoid massive backups and aggravation when people with nonrefundable airline tickets are turned away at security lines in droves for not having a REAL ID a year from now. Currently an estimated 72% of Americans either do not have one or may be confused, according to a study done for the U.S. Travel Association.

Here's what you need to know:

  • What is a REAL ID?

It's essentially an enhanced driver's license that includes a "REAL ID" star in the top corner. People without one will not be able to use just their regular driver's license to get through security at the airport starting next October. The REAL ID law was passed in the wake of 9/11, as lawmakers felt the ease of getting a driver's license was a security risk.

  • Where do I get one?

You can get it at your local state motor vehicle department. Many state DMVs have also opened mobile units and satellite offices to handle the large amount of people upgrading to the REAL ID.

  • What documents do I need to get it?

In order to prove your identity, you need four forms of identification, including two with your address. Those forms can include a valid driver's license, passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, utility bill, payroll stub, rent or mortgage payment, or a military ID.

  • What if I have changed my last name?

You need to bring proof such as a marriage or divorce certificate when you apply for your REAL ID.

  • If I don't get a REAL ID by the deadline, is there still a way I can get through airport security?

Yes, but not if you are just using your driver's license as your ID. You will still be allowed to fly without a REAL ID if you have a passport, Global Entry card or military ID. There are no other exceptions, according to the TSA.

  • Is every state currently rolling out their REAL ID program?

Three states — Oregon, Oklahoma and New Jersey — are currently behind in upgrading to REAL IDs, which means less time for those residents to upgrade their licenses before next year's deadline.