January 22, 2018 looms large in five states: Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana and Washington. That’s because if nothing changes, residents of those states will no longer be allowed to fly unless they have a passport – yes, that means flights that never leave U.S. borders.
I’ve been following this issue closely because I live in Missouri. Last fall I spoke with my state representative about it, and he said there are some optional ideas being floated, but no solid solutions yet. You see, this all stems from a mandate that Congress passed back in 2005 requiring states to create more secure drivers licenses, known as the REAL-ID Act. The reason Missouri (and perhaps other states) has failed to comply, is because of personal privacy rights.
But the problem is, soon people won’t be able to take a last-minute trip unless they already have a passport (or other more specialized form of ID). Will the average person, who likely flies once a year or less, see that as a justifiable expense? Or will they even realize they need to apply for a passport before flying to Chicago, Orlando, or Las Vegas?
Think that just because you don’t live in one of these states that this doesn’t affect you? Think again! Only 23 states are currently in compliance. (The first phase of the restrictions went into affect this month, requiring compliant IDs to get into federal facilities such as military bases.) The remaining states have been granted extensions to fully comply, but time will tell if all of them do. (You can check the status of your state here.)
And regardless whether you can fly, what about your attendees? If you have people coming from any of those five states, will they realize they need a passport to attend your U.S.-based convention or trade show? And it’s not clear how this education process will be handled. Will the airlines have warnings on their websites before people in those states can even book a flight? Who knows. But meanwhile it would definitely be a good idea for all meeting planners and show organizers to stay up-to-date on the developments and keep their attendees well-educated. Visit the Homeland Security website for details.