Air travelers who still need a Real ID can now apply for one at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

A new office where travelers can ask questions and apply on the spot for the identification that meets federal requirements opened Monday behind security on the north end of the Terminal 1 concourse.

MSP is believed to be the first airport in the nation to open a Real ID center, giving air travelers a more convenient way to apply for the identification that starting Oct. 1 will be needed to get on a domestic flight or to enter a federal facility, said Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.

"We are going to you," Harrington said at a Wednesday media briefing at the airport. "Folks at the airport can get their Real ID and apply right here and right now."

The office, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, comes as the number of Minnesotans with a Real ID is lagging. As of Wednesday, only about 600,000 state residents had a Real ID driver's license or state identification card.

That's worrisome for Gov. Tim Walz, who fears too many residents will wait until the last minute to apply. The center, he hopes, will encourage people such as business travelers and others who fly frequently not to procrastinate. The state is now processing applications submitted the first week of January, meaning there is about a two-month wait to get the IDs. Those who apply after June 15 may not get their identification cards before the Oct. 1 deadline, Walz said.

"We need to get the message out that they need to get this done," Walz said at the news conference. "I anticipate there could be trouble with this."

That's why the state partnered with the airport commission and the Department of Public Safety to open an office at the airport, he said.

Justin Hughes works at the Prince shop right across from the Real ID office. He's contemplating getting a Real ID, and having the office just steps from his shop makes it easier than having to go to a traditional application processing center.

"It gives me another option," said Hughes, who is a frequent flier.

As of Wednesday morning, three people — a flight attendant, a security guard and a shopkeeper — had applied for a Real ID at the airport office, said Jordy Perisian, who was staffing the counter.

But lots of people have been stopping to ask questions, he said.

"We are doing a lot of educating," Perisian said.

And there have been lots of questions. Many people — not just at the airport — have been confused about which documents are required to prove citizenship and residency, even though the Department of Public Safety has an online pre-application tool with a checklist of what documents to bring. The biggest mistakes are people bringing laminated Social Security cards and pay stubs without their address or phone numbers, Harrington said.

Applicants must bring one document to prove their identity and date of birth. Acceptable documents include an unexpired passport, a certified copy of a birth certificate or a certificate of citizenship. Applicants must also show proof of having a Social Security number by presenting a Social Security card, a W2 form showing taxes withheld from a paycheck for the current year, or a pay stub with name, address and Social Security number.

To prove Minnesota residency, applicants must show two documents, such as an unexpired Minnesota driver's license, a credit card or bank account statement less than 90 days old, or a federal or state income tax return from the most recent filing year.

New legislation introduced Wednesday would ease the requirements. The bill would allow applicants to show utility bills listing two unrelated individuals to be used as proof of residency. It also would remove the requirement that a phone number be on an applicant's pay stub, and allow property tax statements, cellphone bills and valid hunting and fishing licenses to be used to establish proof of residency.

"This legislation includes prudent changes to the proof of residency requirements that will make it easier for a person to apply for and obtain their REAL ID before the deadline," said Sen. Scott Newman R-Hutchinson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee and the bill's chief author.

Not everybody needs a Real ID. Travelers who are under 18 don't. Anyone 18 or older can also use an Enhanced ID or a passport or a passport card to get on a domestic flight.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768