It may be difficult to imagine now, but sometime next year, you may be able to fly with nearly the nonchalance of 2019.

When air travel returns with gusto, will you be ready?

Dreams of future vacations can feel like a balm during the long lull brought on by the coronavirus. But planning for your great post-pandemic escape should include not just browsing the web for Hawaiian beaches and Irish castles — but also checking the status of key pieces of personal identification.

In less than a year, airport security checkpoints will require a security-enhanced Real ID rather than a standard driver’s license or Minnesota ID card.

Passports that have collected dust in drawers or files may be expiring, and many countries accept a passport only if the expiration date is six months beyond travel dates.

These quiet months before a vaccine may be just the time to get a Real ID card or update your passport, so you’ll be ready to fly when travel concerns ease and the world once again welcomes Americans.

Real ID for fliers

By Oct. 1, 2021, U.S. citizens 18 years of age or older will need a security-enhanced Real ID or other compliant form of identification to board a flight. Valid passports and enhanced driver’s licenses, which Minnesota has been issuing since 2014, qualify.

This deadline had been Oct. 1, 2020, until the coronavirus shut down many offices. Facing the resulting delays and knowing that people must apply in person for Real ID, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moved the deadline back a year.

The push for Real ID began with 2005 legislation requiring enhanced identification to enter federal buildings and to fly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Minnesotans have been able to obtain a Real ID since Oct. 1, 2018. As of Sept. 30, 520,320 residents had received one, either as adriver’s license or identification card, leaving nearly 4 million people to decide if they need a Real ID ahead of the deadline.

As of Oct. 27, the Department of Public Safety, via the Department of Driver and Vehicle Services, was processing Real ID applications from Aug. 26. The department “is working to reduce the processing time for Real ID applications by implementing mandatory overtime to process applications. DPS-DVS is also hiring temporary staff to process applications,” public information officer Megan Leonard wrote in an e-mail.

Minnesotans can apply for a Real ID at most driver’s license offices. Because fliers will be impacted when the rule change takes effect, the Department of Public Safety opened an office dedicated to Real ID at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; it’s in the Airport Mall across from Stone Arch restaurant.

The airport office, which was shuttered in March shortly after its launch, reopened in September. It operates Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by appointment only and is available to people holding a ticket for departure on the day of the appointment. Make an appointment and learn more at drive.mn.gov (click on “Apply for Real ID at MSP Airport Terminal 1”).

Whether applying at the airport or another office, DVS suggests completing the online pre-application tool to minimize time in the office and check the kinds of documents needed to prove residency and identity.

Keep in mind that getting a Real ID is optional, even for fliers, provided they have a valid passport or other acceptable form of identification.

Passport processing

If your passport will soon expire, now may be the time to renew it, especially if you want to use it instead of a Real ID for flying come Oct. 1, 2021. One perk during these times: Renewing a passport can be done through the mail.

After a pandemic-induced paralysis, the U.S. State Department’s passport processing is slowly rebounding. Processing times are now in the 10- to 12-week range. Last year at this time, applicants would get their passports in six to eight weeks. Still, the current time frame is a marked improvement as the agency makes headway with a significant backlog of applications.

Most acceptance facilities such as post offices and libraries are open and accepting applications.

The State Department is reopening in stages. The downtown Minneapolis Passport Agency is in Phase 1, with limited staff working on-site and in-person appointments held for people who are traveling internationally in the next three business days due to a life-or-death emergency.

For more passport information, go to travel.state.gov. Click on the yellow banner across the top to get information on passport operations and to find application forms.

We may not be winging to foreign destinations for sightseeing — carefree and unburdened by a virus — anytime soon, but there are hopeful signs that those days will return.

Sun Country is operating flights from MSP to Mexico and the Caribbean this winter, and on Oct. 25, Delta began once again flying direct from MSP to Amsterdam.

While the Centers for Disease Control advises against travel, some countries are open to Americans — from Kenya and Ireland to Mexico and the Bahamas — with varying degrees of protocols such as quarantines upon arrival.

Having a valid passport can get you there — and fuel hope of vacations to come.