Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the TSA, envisioned a future traveler with nonrefundable plane tickets:
"They step up to the TSA checking station, and if they don't have a Real ID, the officer is going to say, 'I'm sorry, this ID is no longer valid,'" Farbstein said. "There is somebody who is between a rock and a hard place."
While that person may plead with their airline, she added, TSA won't budge. "That's why it's important to do this sooner rather than later," she said. "TSA knows a thing or two about what people think about waiting in lines."
In addition to Real IDs, some states along the northern and southern borders are offering an "enhanced" driver's license, which allows freer passage between the United States and Canada or Mexico. That, too, will work for getting on a plane. The enhanced driver's licenses are offered in only a few states to only U.S. citizens.
While TSA is putting out public service announcements about the new IDs, notices at the state level vary.
Maryland began complying with the Real ID law in 2009, requiring new residents or those getting licenses for the first time to provide extra documentation "under a process that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deemed compliant," according to Charles Brown, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
That process required proof of residency and proof of identity, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates or other identification. The state started issuing Real ID license renewals in 2016. "However, in October 2017, DHS informed Maryland that all customers with a driver's license or identification card containing the Real ID star, which we began issuing in 2016, must have documents on file" with the departments, Brown said in an email.
As a result, 1 million residents who held the Real ID card had to make a return trip to the MVA so that the state could put copies of their proof of identification and residency on file. The state is scheduling them in groups.
The federal Department of Homeland Security refused to comment on the situation in Maryland and other states, despite repeated requests.
More than 2 million of Maryland's 5 million licensed drivers are Real ID compliant, Brown said. For customers, Maryland is extending hours at MVA offices, opening satellite offices, allowing customers to set up appointments and pledging that the process will take only 15 minutes if an appointment is made. A recent trip to an MVA office in Beltsville revealed long lines but a sense of urgency by staff members to adhere to the 15-minute time frame.