Got your driver’s license nearby? Check to see if it has either a gold or black star in the upper-right-hand corner (if you’re in California, your star will be inside the outline of a bear). Mine does, because I got my most recent driver’s license in 2017; if yours does not, get a new driver’s license as soon as possible.
Why? Because these gold-or-black-star licenses are what’s called “Real ID licenses,” which meet updated security standards and are more difficult to forge or copy. More importantly, if you want to use a driver’s license to board a U.S. domestic flight on or after October 1, 2020, you’ll need to show a Real ID license to qualify—and, as the Department of Homeland Security reminds us, you can only get a Real ID license by going to the DMV in person.
As The New York Times reports, people who want to trade up to Real ID licenses are already experiencing longer-than-usual DMV waits:
The new so-called Real ID license has sent “unprecedented crowds” to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles office in Midtown Manhattan, one of the busiest in the state, according to a top agency official.
“It was agonizing and extremely frustrating,” said Tony Monteleone, an executive with a business-to-business website who spent seven hours at a motor vehicle office in Manhattan to obtain a Real ID license. “I was on vacation. At one point I said to myself, ‘How long could it take?’ Who knew that it was going to take all day?”
Remember, we’re still months out from the October 2020 deadline—so even the early birds are having to hang around the DMV for hours to get a Real ID license. Imagine what it’ll be like in August or September, and then make plans to go to the DMV as soon as possible.
If you don’t get a Real ID driver’s license by October 2020, you can still board a domestic flight as long as you show another TSA-approved form of identification, including a passport, a passport card, a permanent resident card, or a trusted traveler card.
But if you’ve got an afternoon—or a day—to spare, you might want to consider lining up for one of those Real IDs.