Skip to main content

TSA is about to demand Real ID for most travel, and 32% of Americans don’t even know how to get one: Report

Spoiler: You need to contact the DMV

A busy airport full of people

Navigating the airport can be a daunting experience, especially when it comes to ensuring you have the necessary documents. For international flights, keeping up with your passport is crucial, but for domestic flights, simply having your standard-issue driver’s license will suffice — though not for much longer. Starting May 7, 2025, passengers will be required to have a Real ID in order to fly in the United States. The problem? Many Americans have no clue how to obtain one.

A suitcase open at home being packed with travel documents nearby
Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

What is a Real ID?

Real ID is a government-issued identification card or driver’s license that meets enhanced security standards established by the Real ID Act, required for domestic air travel and access to federal facilities. A Real ID can be identified by a gold star in the upper right-hand corner of a driver’s license, driver’s permit, or identification card. Beginning May 7, 2025, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can only accept a driver’s license or identification card that meets these standards. 

Since TSA can’t legally allow boarding without this upgraded identification, travelers must obtain a Real ID through their respective Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). So now, before you enter the hustle and bustle of long lines, security checks, and last-minute gate changes at the airport, you’ll first have to brave the DMV. 

Closeup of a man's hands pulling a card out of his wallet
Georgi Dyulgerov/Unsplash

Real insight into TSA’s Real ID struggle

To shed light on Americans’ knowledge and preparedness regarding Real ID, Upgraded Points surveyed more than 2,000 participants to gauge their understanding of how Real ID works and what the impact of this change might look like for TSA.  

Generationally, Baby Boomers and Gen Z are those least likely to have heard about Real ID, but 78% of Americans are aware of what a Real ID is. Remarkably, however, 1 in 3 people surveyed — roughly 32% — say they do not know how to get one. Unfortunately for these travelers, the news is that an in-person trip to the local DMV is in order. 

Roughly 30.6% of respondents say they do not plan to get their Real ID — meaning after the deadline, they won’t be able to get through TSA to board a flight. Women are reported to be 18% more willing to make the change than men. Cost is a significant concern for a portion of individuals who do not plan to obtain their Real ID, with approximately 1 in 10 respondents citing cost as a barrier. For example, in states like Pennsylvania, some residents may be charged a one-time fee and a renewal fee of more than $60.

Among those who plan to obtain their Real ID, the average target date cited was mid-February 2024 to allow them ample time to complete the process. The survey findings revealed an intriguing pattern for people who are self-reported frequent travelers. Frequent travelers are 19% more likely to be aware of what a Real ID is, and 49% are more likely to have already acquired one for themselves. 

Most people — 88.6% — mistakenly believe that Real ID is required by TSA earlier than it is, which could be because the deadline has been extended multiple times. Surprisingly, more than a quarter of people think the Real ID date has already passed as of June 2023, further highlighting the significant confusion surrounding the deadline and requirements. Only 7.1% of people surveyed could accurately identify the Real ID date within a month, and an even smaller subset of individuals, at 1.3%, are aware of the actual May 7, 2025 enforcement date.

Editors' Recommendations

Ashley Jones
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ashley is a freelance journalist with bylines across a range of online and print publications.
How to get TSA PreCheck for free: 3 easy ways
You don't have to pay for TSA PreCheck using these methods
TSA PreCheck sign at airport.

Navigating through airports can often feel like a daunting task, especially when confronted with long security lines that seem to stretch into eternity. But what if there was a way to easily breeze through security checkpoints, avoiding the hassle of removing your shoes, belts, and laptops? Welcome to the world of TSA PreCheck, a game-changer for frequent travelers.

However, TSA PreCheck can be pricey, which leaves many people wondering how they can get this coveted privilege without breaking the bank. This is how to get TSA PreCheck for free.
Sign up for the right credit cards

Read more
United Global Services: Everything you need to know about the airline’s invite-only status tier
What happens when you go beyond United 1K
Person using United's Premier access desk

Most major airlines have a loyalty scheme that rewards frequent flyers with various levels of status and associated perks. Some have an extra invite-only level of status that is applied to some of their most valued customers. For United, this is “Global Services.”

Not much has actually been published about Global Services, with United’s MileagePlus program seemingly capping out with Premier 1K status. However, you may notice Global Services members called for pre-boarding, spot one of their dedicated check-in kiosks, or see it written on the side of one of those carts they use to transport elite members from the lounge to the gate.

Read more
American Airlines makes major change to loyalty program to get you to book direct
American Airlines

The way travelers earn loyalty points and book flights is about to change significantly, thanks to a series of significant policy shifts by American Airlines. Starting May 1, the airline has announced a new rule in its loyalty program (American's AAdvantage program), which will only award miles and loyalty points for bookings made through "preferred" travel agencies. This update represents a significant shift in how travelers will approach booking flights and maintaining loyalty statuses.

What's changing for the American Airlines loyalty program?
The preferred status of travel agencies is now linked to their use of the New Distribution Capability (NDC). This change is nudges travelers to book directly with American Airlines or through specific agencies that align closely with their new booking systems. To be considered preferred, agencies must jump through all sorts of hoops, including new NDC usage thresholds.
Impact on travelers
As a frequent flyer, I've always valued the flexibility of booking through various platforms, often choosing the one offering the best deal or convenience. However, with this new policy, the ability to earn AAdvantage miles and points becomes tied to how and where the booking is made.

Read more