"On May 3, 2023 U. S. travelers must be REAL ID compliant to board domestic flights and access certain federal facilities." -- U. S. Department of Homeland Security.
Starting in May 2023 your regular drive's license will no longer serve as proper identification. If you don't have a REAL ID, which is a specially certified driver's license, you'll need to produce a valid, current passport.
Have you received a notice with a link to apply for your REAL ID? I moved to Pennsylvania four years ago, and the state has all my current information. I was informed that I was pre-qualified to get my REAL ID online. So I filled out the form, sent it in, and commenced to wait.
Eventually I got a message back, telling me that I was not pre-qualified after all, due to "Error 6001."
I wrote back: "What is Error 6001?"
I got an answer. Something to do with my Social Security number. So I had to go to a PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) office in person to apply for my REAL ID.
I looked it up. My nearest office is open Tues. through Sat. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Well, I think I'm pretty smart, so I decided to arrive right at 8:30 before anyone else got there.
I gathered my materials: Social Security card, passport, driver's license, an electric bill showing my address. Then I jumped in my car a little after 8 a.m. and drove to the PennDOT office, located in a strip mall. I pulled into the almost-empty parking lot, once again congratulating myself on how smart I am.
Except there was a group of cars crowding one side of the parking lot. Then I saw a line of people strung out along the entire front of the mall. And I realized, once again, that I'm not as smart as I think I am.
I almost gave up, thinking I'd come back another day. But what day? When would motor vehicles be any less crowded? I heaved a sigh (and maybe a curse word), then parked my car, trudged up to the back of the line, and waited for the place to open.
Five minutes later the doors swung out, and the line slowly disappeared into the building. Amazingly enough, I found myself at the door in just a few minutes. "What are you here for?" a man asked, as I donned my mask.
"My REAL ID."
He gave me a number and told me to take a seat. I walked into the room, noticing that people were socially distanced. I took a seat next to two empty chairs. I saw half a dozen windows in front of me, with numbers lit up on a screen on the wall. I sat down, looked around at the people, then pulled out my phone and commenced to bide my time.
I decided I ought to check my paperwork. Yes, all my ID papers were there. Then I pulled out the PennDOT instructions. A payment of $60 was required. Credit cards were accepted online. But in person, the requirement was check or money order.
Oh God. I didn't bring my check book! Would I have to go back home to get it and return? And wait some more? Was this going to take all day?
Then I remembered. I had cash. I pulled out my wallet. There was a $50 bill, along with a $5 and a $10 and a few ones. Maybe they would take cash. I decided to wait it out.
The fellow who'd been in front of me in the line outside went up to the counter. He didn't take long. Then they called my number. I saw it on the screen. I felt like I'd won the lottery!
I walked up to the counter and was greeted by a friendly woman who asked my name and birthdate, wanted to see my license. "Oh, this is easy," she said. "You're pre-qualified."
Really? I confessed that PennDOT had told me there was something wrong with my application. Error 6001. She looked at her computer. "I don't know what 6001 is. But everything looks in order."
Then I gulped. "Um, I didn't bring my checkbook. Do you take a credit card? Or ... I have cash."
"We don't take cash," she said. "A credit card is fine. Just insert it in the machine."
I put in my credit card, signed the form she slipped to me across the counter. She told me my REAL ID would arrive in the mail in ten days or so.
Mission accomplished -- in just half an hour! The woman behind the window was even nice.
So I await my REAL ID, hoping I don't get any more error reports. Starting in May 2023, I'll be able to enter federal buildings and take a domestic flight, without worrying about carrying a passport. Gee . . . I wonder if I'll need a vaccination card.