Red, White &
passport processing delays sink your cruise plans
June 2007 —
When my husband Mel sent his passport in for renewal back on March
19th we had no immediate travel plans. It just needed to be done
because the passport was set to expire in eight months. Many
countries require that tourists' passports not expire for two to six
months from the time they either enter or leave the country. Mel
wouldn't have enough time remaining on his passport if we did decide
to take a trip. So, trusting the system, Mel mailed his application,
new photos, and fee along with his old passport for renewal.
It wasn't widely known back in March that the State Department was
falling desperately behind in passport processing... sure, it was
clearly announced that new regulations were imposed in January 2007
requiring US citizens to have passports for air travel to places
like Canada and Mexico, where only a birth certificate and
government-issues picture ID were previously required. However,
that's no excuse for what has transpired.
As applications flooded in,
passport processing centers were "overwhelmed" by the
"unprecedented" demand. Let's
examine the situation—new
passport requirements resulted in millions of applications and the
State Department was unprepared to process them in a timely fashion.
Didn't they expect the demand? Why were they so surprised
and, dare I say it, unprepared? Is that acceptable government
Although we probably won't receive satisfactory answers, for the
time being (through September 30, 2007), US citizens traveling to
Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for, but
not yet received, passports can temporarily enter and depart the
United States by air without a passport. To do so, US citizens MUST
HAVE a government issued photo identification and Department of
State official proof of application for a passport (obtain proof of
application at: www.travel.state.gov).
Well, that's fine,
but what about travelers headed to Europe and elsewhere who need
those passports? Like Mel now needs his! Will their dream travel
plans become nightmares?
While we had no imminent travel plans back in March, we decided an
opportunity to cruise in the Baltic this summer was just too good to
pass up and began making plans in May. Yes, we realized Mel's
renewed passport hadn't shown up, but it had been eight weeks since
the application was mailed and seven weeks since the check cleared
the bank the first week in April. That was plenty of time,
right? The State Department estimated that ten weeks was the
expected processing time. With that as a guideline, we anticipated
it would be in the mailbox any day.
Our concern grew
after speaking to my colleague Anita Potter who related, "It
took me five weeks just to get extra pages in February." Her
husband, a pilot for a major US airline, "couldn't fly
International trips because he was renewing his at the same time as
him eight weeks."
Where did that leave us? With
delays mounting, the new "estimate" for Mel's passport had
lengthened from ten weeks to 12-14 weeks. That would cut it
dangerously close to our planned departure date. We hadn't paid the
$60 fee to expedite the process because we didn't need to... IF the
system were working properly.
As a proactive measure, I placed a
call to Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss' office for assistance. His
aide requested our travel date and promised to phone it in to the
passport processing center; however, she could not request special
handling until two weeks prior to our departure. Just a few days
later, the Senator's aide called back to update us. The travel date
was called in and all we could do was wait.
Happily, we didn't have to follow
up to request further expediting... Mel's passport arrived June
13th. It took 12 weeks from the date the application was mailed
until it was issued. Was it speeded along by the Senator's office?
Perhaps the prodding helped, but we'll never know. I feel badly if
other applicants were delayed even further because of our request.
Off Your Passport Application
From personal experience, the anxiety isn't worth it.
While online comments from rather smug passport-holders suggest that
first-time applicants are somehow at fault for not getting theirs
sooner, that is simply not the case.
We are hardly inexperienced
travelers. Mel's renewal was his third and it has never taken so
long in the past. It shouldn't today.
Yourself With a Passport
to apply in person for a passport