Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Conversations on Travel turn to Real ID

"We are not doing anything about it at this time, at the airline level. Here's why: at this stage it is a "head-butting" contest between TSA, Homeland Security, and Congress, which passed the law. "
- Tim Smith for American Airlines



Year end travelling due to Holiday connections have piqued concerns of those confronted with requests for ID by the TSA . It may be no accident that Real ID's year end deadline begs the focus of those otherwise concerned with other issues like National Healthcare and Climate Change and those flying out on the holiday red eye.

BBS Forums like this one are free form vents for those with privacy and travel concerns who understand more than one would ever think.

Albuquerque travel journalist, Neala Schwartzberg turns her attention on the demands of some of those who supply travel the most this year. It's turns out, once again, Real ID and what may even be PASS ID won't make the logistical cut for travellers.

What are the airlines doing about travellers on domestic flights.

By Neala Schwartzberg

Background: Pushed through Congress in 2005 as a tagged-on program to a more crucial bill, Real ID sought to make driver’s licenses a more secure form of identification.

Problem was, no one likes the Real ID program. Not even Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security. It is expensive, invasive, and stepped all over states rights issues.

However, if a state didn’t conform to the requirements spelled out in the bill, residents would not be allowed to fly on domestic flights operated by commercial airlines.

A compromise called Pass ID was created instead. However, in the midst of all the other chaos in government, Congress has shown little interest in pushing that bill through. In the meantime, the states, one by one, have made their licenses more and more secure in keeping with the spirit of the law.

Currently there are over 30 states that have not agreed to Real ID and are therefore out of compliance. On January 1st, unless an extension is granted by DHS (and it appears they WILL issue that extension), residents of those states have IDs that are not acceptable under the Real ID act and will not be able to use their driver’s licenses for identification for domestic flights.

Strangely, the airlines have said nothing at all about this issue. So, I contacted American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, two carriers with a significant presence in Albuquerque and Texas which also cover much of the United States.

Here’s what American Airlines spokesperson Tim Smith said:

We are not doing anything about it at this time, at the airline level. Here's why: at this stage it is a "head-butting" contest between TSA, Homeland Security, and Congress, which passed the law.

Well, that effectively removes the airlines from the playing field.

He continues: "With more than half the states in America unable to comply with the [Real ID] law at this time, we believe that this issue will have to be worked out among those parties in some fashion. We suspect none of them is prepared to turn away tens of thousands of travelers on January 1."

Stranded travelers? This had the potential to be a world-class headache for the airlines, and I wondered why American Airlines wasn’t more concerned.

Then I spoke with Southwest Airlines spokesperson Brandy King and realized why. "If there is no extension, customers will still be allowed to travel,” said King.

How could this be? She explained. "If you lost your driver’s license and had to take a flight you would still be allowed to travel, but you are subject to extra screening."

It does make sense. Stolen wallets and misplaced important papers happen. And when it does, people call the airlines in a panic. Notes King, “We are asked this all the time if they are in the middle of trip and lost their ID or right before departure.”

So, for the airlines, this may not be anything really new, although the scale would surely be unprecedented.

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