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Passport Horror Stories

Cindy Loose

Pity the poor State Department -- or not?

After Congress decreed that Americans would have to have a passport for all flights out of the country, the State Department added staff, expanded hours and pulled retirees into active duty. When it still couldn't keep up with demand, it hired more people, kept offices open weekends and nights, and convinced other State Department personnel to pitch in on top of their regular jobs. Still they can't keep up. In the first seven months of this year, they've issued almost 9 million passports -- 33% more than last year, which itself was a record year for passport applications.

The backlog has brought a crisis for travelers awaiting passports just weeks or even days before a trip.

Yesterday I stopped by the D.C. passport agency at 19th and M streets NW, where people with trips coming up within 14 days come for emergency help. Some of them had already waited 12 weeks. They'd applied at a time the Department was advising it would take 8 weeks to get a passport, but the advice changed midstream. Some of these folks were apoplectic. One set of parents had passports for themselves but not their kids, and they were headed to Italy within days. One family drove up from South Carolina -- there are only 13 of these agencies around the country -- desperately hoping to get passports before their upcoming trip.

Trust me when I say they had no sympathy for the State Department.

Any other passport horror stories out there?

By Cindy Loose |  June 6, 2007; 11:27 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , Travel Logistics
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The State Dept. has been lagging for some time now. I had a trip scheduled for Montreal last July 4th for the Jazz Festival. My passport needed to be re-newed, and I sent it in 12 weeks in advance. Needless to say I did NOT receive it in time for the trip. Attempts to get an appt. at the State Dept. were fruitless. To travel, I had to take my birth certificate (ordered it on-line and got it in about a week), my driver's license, and a certified copy of my name change from 20 years ago because my current name is different from my birth name (another adventure in getting certified copies of that document). When I was returing from Montreal to DC and going thru customs/passport control in Canada, the offical asked me why didn't I just get a passport?

Posted by: Kensington | June 6, 2007 12:20 PM

We have friends just back from Europe who actually had to knock on the back door of the post office, hours before it opened, the morning of their noon flight, to get their new baby's passport out of the mail. (Who knew the post office would do this?!?) The State Dept is also lying to people - they were told several times that it had been mailed, only to have it not arrive and then be told something else. Interestingly, the State Dept sent out the passport addressed to the infant - so the post office had to be convinced to give it to the parents (since they picked it up in person).

We just ordered one last Sat for our 2-year-old, paying an extra $60 to expedite (a tax on our govt's ineptness - nice) - it's supposed to come in three weeks by Fed Ex, but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: anonymous | June 6, 2007 4:01 PM

Maybe I'm just very lucky on this, but I mailed my expedited renewal application this past March and got my new passport back in a week. So in other words -- it's a total crapshoot.

Posted by: Andy | June 6, 2007 6:51 PM

I actually got mine last year before all the craziness. I was still extra cautious though. For my trip at the end of April, I sent in for my passport (my first time, not a renewal) in January. The State Dept. at the time was saying 6 to 9 weeks but I wasn't taking any chances and gave them 12 weeks. I actually got it in about a month so I was one of the lucky ones.

Posted by: Dublin traveler | June 7, 2007 9:07 AM

I have to agree its a crapshoot because my co-worker got her first passport in April and she had it within a month of requesting it.

Posted by: Lakshmi | June 7, 2007 10:49 AM

After hearing all the horror stories, I was worried our 2 year old wouldn't get his passport in time for our trip in July. We went to the "passport office" set up in a small town post office here in NH to apply. No line, no waiting. We paid extra to expedite the application, and paid for express mail there and back (included a self-addressed express mail envelope with the application). It arrived in 2 weeks.

Posted by: NH | June 7, 2007 11:36 AM

seriously...I have little sympathy for the State Department, but I have even less for anyone sweating out getting a passport in time for a big trip. Puh-leez...everyone should just have a passport. If nothing else, it's a good form of ID and proof of citizenship. And then you're ready when the "big trip of a lifetime that I never thought I'd take" comes up.

Posted by: why are you waiting? | June 7, 2007 7:55 PM

Knowing the rules were about to be tightened up, I renewed mine in August last year before it expired in November. I get good, current info from the Post's "Talk About Travel" online chat with The Flight Crew!

A co-worker paid the exhorbitant fees for expediting because she waited 'till the last minute-- not worth the stress. I was taught early on to keep a current passport-- and keep it safe so it wouldn't be lost or missing when it was time to travel!

Posted by: Casta Lusoria | June 8, 2007 11:00 AM

I sent my passport renewal application along with expedited service fee and return fed ex envelope. Despite the horror stories heard, I received my passport in a week. I agree with one of the folks above that it is a total crapshoot.

Posted by: Logan Circle | June 8, 2007 3:30 PM

To the poster who sanctimoniously points out that he or she has little sympathy for people trying to get passports, because "everyone should have a passport," I wonder where you managed to get your magical never expiring passport, because I would like one of those as well. The State Department has had my passport renewal application for 12 weeks, and this is the longest I have gone in my entire life (was born overseas in a less than stable country, so my parents got me a passport almost immediately upon birth) without a passport. Do not blame people who are simply doing what has to be done to travel for the shortcomings of the State Department.

Posted by: Washington, DC | June 8, 2007 4:27 PM

What a mess...When I applied for a passport 3 years ago, it took nearly 4 months for me to receive it. I am 55 and was born at home so had no birth certificate.(I do have a drivers license, social security card, etc.) My High School & COllege diplomas were not enough proof. THANK GOD, I had an uncle still alive who was present when I was born. It took a notorized statement from him to finally secure my passport. I find it hillarious that my son applied and recieved a passport in 3 weeks. If I don't exist, how can he??? To all of those waiting, my sympathies.

Posted by: Mary | June 8, 2007 5:51 PM

I paid a large sum of money, in May, to expedite my two kids' passport applications. It arrived in three weeks as promised. I sent mine earlier in April and was sent back to me because the amount for the application fee I enclosed was wrong. In their Website it says $97 for passport renewal, but the passport clerk returned my application with a cryptic massage to enclose $67. I wish they took the extra $30 and issued my passport. I still don't have my passport 10 weeks later. Luckily I live within a reasonable driving distance to Wash. DC hopefully get my passport before my planned trip in early July.

Posted by: Teddy | June 8, 2007 6:27 PM

I am so glad the govt relaxed the passport law. My daughter applied in February and has not received hers yet. We leave for Mexico on Thursday. The people at the call center are polite, but can't seem to do much but sympathize. I was glad I bought the travel insurance, but it looks like now we won't have to use it!

Posted by: Deb G | June 8, 2007 11:40 PM

To travel without a passport to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean you need the State Department generated form that indicates you applied for your passport. I checked today with the post office, who checked with the State Department via the special phone number they have, and was told that it could take up to a month for the application to be processed so that you can get the form that says you applied. So...If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean any time sooner than a month, it would be smart not to submit the application because you would then be without your birth certificate. You must wait until you're within 14 days and then try to get an appointment for rapid service. Unfortunately you can't make an appointment because the phone system ALWAYS says they are too busy and call back later, click. You can't go to the Passport Office on 19th St. NW because they don't make appointments there. I tried and was not let into the facility because I was not within 5 days of departure.

Yes, I should have applied earlier, but I didn't. There is a system in place to take care of procrastinators, but unfortunately it's broken as is the rest of the system.

Posted by: Robert | June 9, 2007 2:45 AM

I applied at the end of March and paid the extra fee for expedited. It took 4 weeks just to be tracked in the system. After 9 weeks, my status was downgraded to "routine", with no explanation. Finally after 4 or 5 emails and multiple phone calls, I figured out the post office clerk had made a mistake and made a copy of one of my documents instead of sending the original. I still have a few weeks before my trip, but my only chance at this time is to try to get an appointment in person when I hit the 2 weeks before the trip mark. So much for starting the process 4 1/2 months before the trip and doing an expedited application. I still, though, have some understanding for the Passport Agency, because I think they just got a massive increase of workload without adequate resources. The problem comes from the leadership who imposed that on them.

Posted by: Maryland | June 9, 2007 7:34 AM

As I write, my intended trip is six days away, and my teenage daughter has yet to receive her passport, for which she applied months ago. Email efforts to contact the state department have been fruitless, and when, remarkably, I did get through after days of trying by phone, I received rote, unvarying, and utterly unhelpful responses about how all I can do is travel 600 miles to a regional office, where there is no guarantee that appointments are being honored(even if you can get through on their automated system). Evidently all of those extra people that were hired to handle the passport application overflow were assigned to the task of apologizing for not having any information. And of course, should you end up having to eat the cost of plane tickets, etc., the government's "policy" is that you are on your own! Situation Normal under GWB, in other words.

Posted by: Art | June 10, 2007 11:24 PM

My wife, two sons and I will be traveling (hopefully) to Rome and Tuscany with friends (husband and wife and their two sons) in the beginning of July. My passport expired in the end of November 2006 and I reappplied on March 21, 2007. I was told that it would take a maximum of 10 weeks and I had the local post office send the application express mail with confirmation. I notified my friends who got their paperwork and pictures together and applied approximately two weeks after I did. In the interim, we paid for a villa in Tuscany, non-refundable plane fare and hotel rooms in Rome for three days. None of our passports have been processed and there have been no responses to our inquiries that have been sent via email. Don't even ask me to explain the byzantine automated voicemail system that the passport agency has. Needless to say, each family will be out nearly $10,000 should our passports not arrive before our trip. This is really putting a damper on what should be a happy time of anticipating a family vacation. This will be the fourth passport that I have had in my lifetime and I have never experienced or seen such shameful behavior by a government agency. I cannot believe that it takes 3+ months to get a passport renewed. I appreciate the intent of all this heightened security to protect all of us, but they knew that these changes were about to take place. I think it only appropriate that some senior staff in the agency be terminated for being incomepetent managers. I am sure that they are enjoying a hefty annual salary at public expense yet they are treating the public deplorably. They epitmoize the stereotypical "univil servant". This comment is coming from a person who has been a civil servant for over 16 years and I am embarassed by this behavior and ridiculous planning from my "colleagues". My wife is from the former Soviet Union and has been an American citizen for ten years. The level of bureaucratic incompetence, horror stories of lines, and not letting people travel freely to and from a destination abroad is reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.

Posted by: Dismayed in Loudoun | June 12, 2007 9:56 PM

I sent my renewal application by mail via Fed Ex last April 6, 2007. The $67.00 check was deposited by them already, but when I enter their website to check the status of my passport, they cant find my application. I've called and they cant help me because my trip is not in 2 weeks. This is a nightmare, my trip is on July 12 to Africa and I payed a lot of money. I really dont know what to do, it is very hard to be an American Citizen this days.

Posted by: Fernando Valverde | June 13, 2007 1:45 PM

It pays to call and spend the time on hold.
My wife and I had to renew my passport for a vacation to the Bahamas, which came in about 10 weeks, but we had to get a new passport for our 2 year old son. I spent A LOT of time on hold with the passport folks, who were helpful. I called about 2 weeks out, and the person flagged the passport, told me to check back in a week. When I called back (and spent more time trying to get connected, and then hold time) they said it was ready to go out. It was issued less than a week before our trip but we made it and had a great time.

Posted by: ddn | June 14, 2007 3:17 PM

I applied for a renewal of my passport on March 26th, when they were saying 8 weeks. The phone lines are horrendous. Once you get through the customer service reps are nice, but do not convey any more useful information than you get with your tracking number--that is that it is being processed. I had the passport expedited on June 11th, and I am leaving for Italy on June 22nd. I have involved my Congressman's office, but it doesn't seem like they have any power in all of this either.

I would advise calling between 7am and 8am EST or after 10pm, and as soon as the recording starts, press 1 (if you speak English). Then the minute the next recording starts, press 3, then when that recording starts, press 1. If you can't get through, press redial on your phone and do the 1-3-1 routine again. Do this repeatedly until you get through. It worked for me, and supposedly they have expedited my application.
The automated appointment system is even worse. For this do 1-2 repeatedly until you get through. The first available appointment is the morning of the day I depart at 6pm! On a positive note, my travel agent has plenty of horror stories of inconvenience, missed days of work, long lines, etc., but does not know of one person (yet) who did all the right things (applied when they said, called, etc.) who was left stranded and unable to travel.

The big issue seems to be a complete lack of accountability. This was definitely able to be forseen. Supposedly government workers are working overtime, but it is notable that you cannot get an appointment at a regional office on a Saturday or Sunday or into the evening.

Posted by: Eileen | June 15, 2007 1:36 PM

I just want to cry! I just want my passports to get here by next week. Maybe I should take a row boat to England, then I wouldnt need my passports.

Posted by: Proud to be American! | June 17, 2007 3:13 PM

You are from here, you cannot be there. Well, okay, fine, go on over there, but not until I say so. Not 'til I'm ready to keep an eye on you. Because I don't trust you. Anyone might be a terrorist. And we have to protect ourselves. We must acknowledge our country's fears. Bureaucracy can protect us. Personal judgment is dangerous. You are an idiot. And don't be silly, it is not a prison if it's this big. We do call it a country. I've got to give you one warning though, after all it takes to get out of here for day, you might not want to ever come back. This, admittedly, is a very funny reaction to a thing called the PATRIOT act. And no, smarty-pants, it's not really called an inmate act.

Posted by: The Great Big Mouth | June 18, 2007 1:35 AM

Well- 3 family members who are traveling with us to Mexico July 4 waited to get there passports till June 6. They paid for expedited service. Was told it would take 2 weeks. Here we are the day before the 14 day mark and there is no sign of any passports. We can't even track them online or print out the form we need. I have proof which is my canceled checks( of course they have their money ) but that won't work. Can't get through the phone lines- always busy. This is crazy!!!!! We are down to traveling in 2 weeks. They give you a number but you still can't get through.
D.Spires

Posted by: D.Spires | June 19, 2007 4:32 PM

Contact your Congressman. They have a "through" line to the state department and have access to infomation that you do not. This is what I was told. It doesn't matter at this point how long ago you applied for your passport. Things are so backed up that they are currently only processing passports for people who are leaving within the next two weeks. Even Congressmen can't help you until you reach that magic two week period. I'm hoping and praying that mine gets here by July 2nd. Good luck to us all.

Posted by: Eileen | June 19, 2007 6:03 PM

I applied for my passport expedited last week. I checked today online and it shows that they have it but on a routine basis instead of expedited. I'm traveling mid-August and I don't know if I should worry that my application does not show as expedited. What can I do?

Posted by: Sandy | June 21, 2007 4:11 PM

We applied in late March for a trip that we're leaving for on SATURDAY, June 23. We were told 6-8 weeks which would have been late May. Well, first week of June we call and they expedite our application. We found out that our info was sent from New Orleans (Thanks...not) up to New Hampshire as they were less crowded....yeah that makes a lot of sense, why not just do it in New Orleans?

Well, as of today, June 21, our passports still have NOT been mailed out. We have over 15 requests in to have them expedited and that we're leaving on the 23rd. Called tonight...DID NOT MAKE it into the mail today. Now they are saying, maybe delivered on Saturday...well, flight leaves at 9am Saturday and it's the only flight OF THE WEEK to our destination.

This just goes to show, give the government a task to do, and they will find a way to screw it up. Why not let PRIVATE industry handle this, for the amount of $$ that's in it for the government, they could give up half of it to private industry, make their cut and things would get done. We stand to lose close to $5k in airline tickets and house rental for the week (pre paid, no refund)...UNREAL!

Posted by: William | June 21, 2007 10:05 PM

Applied by mail early April for a NAME CHANGE only. They cashed my check April 9th. I leave in 9 days. Everytime I call, I get a different answer from the SCR's. I've been lied to multiple times. When I applied, I was todl 10 weeks. We then bought our plane tickets. And now we are going to lose over 4000 dollars. This is absolutely ridiculous!

Posted by: Melissa | June 21, 2007 10:43 PM

My friend applied for her passport 13 weeks ago. She has not got her passport. Where can she call or how can she accelerate the process? She wants to visit me in Germany in August. Can anybody help me?

Posted by: Doris | June 22, 2007 3:05 PM

I paid for mine to be expedited a little over four weeks ago. It still hasn't arrived, and when I check online, it says that I requested routine service - not true! I haven't been able to get a hold of anyone on the phone, and the emails I get back just tell me how long expedited service is supposed to take and which service center is processing my application!

Posted by: Wendy | June 23, 2007 9:30 AM

Williams's post June 21: Funny, they sent yours to New Hampshire, cause they were less busy. Because mines there and has been for 12 weeks. I leave in 7 days. What a joke.

Posted by: Melissa | June 24, 2007 9:15 PM

I applied 5 weeks ago in May and paid the expedited fees. Site shows that it has been processing for the last 3 weeks. Call center sent them a few messaged without any outcome. Leaving in 3 days. I am so disappointed...

Posted by: George | June 25, 2007 5:43 PM

I need some advice because I don't know if what they are telling me at the 877 number is true. I need to renew my passport for business trip that just came up for Aug. 1st. They told me to wait 2 weeks before departure and make an appointment to an agency because even if I expedite now,they will not guarantee that I will get it in time. Would you take the chance and expedite anyway, pay a passport expedite service, or wait and show up 2 weeks before. I've been trying the automated system to make an appointment and you can't get through.

Posted by: Maria | June 26, 2007 9:57 PM

I need some advice because I don't know if what they are telling me at the 877 number is true. I need to renew my passport for business trip that just came up for Aug. 1st. They told me to wait 2 weeks before departure and make an appointment to an agency because even if I expedite now,they will not guarantee that I will get it in time. Would you take the chance and expedite anyway, pay a passport expedite service, or wait and show up 2 weeks before. I've been trying the automated system to make an appointment and you can't get through.

Posted by: Maria | June 26, 2007 10:06 PM

I need some advice because I don't know if what they are telling me at the 877 number is true. I need to renew my passport for business trip that just came up for Aug. 1st. They told me to wait 2 weeks before departure and make an appointment to an agency because even if I expedite now,they will not guarantee that I will get it in time. Would you take the chance and expedite anyway, pay a passport expedite service, or wait and show up 2 weeks before. I've been trying the automated system to make an appointment and you can't get through.

Posted by: Maria | June 26, 2007 10:16 PM

I applied on about May 12th, and I'm supposed to go to S. Korea on July 27th. I did the routine process, and was assured by the postal clerk that it would take no longer than 10 weeks. The State Department website shows 10-12 wks. now. I'm really concerned. Would not having my passport in time really prevent me from going??! Is there any other proof I could show besides the passport? Please help!

Posted by: Elizabeth | June 27, 2007 4:04 PM

Use a passport expedite service. Out of four passport applications, three came, one was still being processed with one week to go before our trip. I used a passport expedite service and got my son's passport. The expedite services have standing appointment times at the agencies. Having to pay a few hundred extra bucks is way better than losing thousands of dollars.

Posted by: gabe | June 27, 2007 5:44 PM

Thanks for the advice. I am going to call a passport expedite service and see what they can do for me.

Posted by: Elizabeth | June 28, 2007 9:53 AM

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