Battling Passport Delays so YOUR Passport Doesn’t Get “Lost in Space"
Updated: Nov 7
Passport delays are a big issue this year. There are many horror stories of people having to cancel trips, experiencing disappointment, and losing money. How can you avoid this?
I loved watching Lost in Space as a kid. Did you watch it or catch the newer Netflix version of the series? If you will be traveling outside of the U.S. and don't have a valid passport in hand yet, this article was written for you. As I was reading the latest about passport delays, I had "danger, danger" going off in my head. It made me think about how the robot in the series would say, "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"
So what IS the danger? It's that you may miss your trip. That may result in a lot of lost money as well as disappointment.
Excluding mailing time, passport processing times have now been reduced to 7-10 weeks*. If you pay $60 to expedite them, the Passport Agency says 3-5 weeks*. Getting an in-person appointment can be difficult. Most are for life-or-death situations. For an emergency passport, they push that you can't get an appointment until you are within two weeks of a trip. At that point, many people are forced to fly to another state to get an appointment. Meanwhile, people are missing trips they're forced to cancel. And I’ve had clients who are unable to book shorter notice trips.
*Timeframes updated on 11/7/23
It's a mess. We came out of the pandemic with travelers anxious to travel. We're hitting records on passport applications. I recently read that the government is now increasing overtime, hiring specialists, and adding a satellite office.
Rhonda and Dan: A Cautionary Tale
This is one of MANY sad but true stories. "Rhonda and Dan" booked their trip months in advance. Rhonda couldn't find her birth certificate to get her passport. She no longer lives in the state in which she was born. It took over a month to get that birth certificate. The post office gave her a timeframe that was outdated. Only weeks before, the advisory had changed to a longer timeframe. She did pay for the expedited processing. She tracked her passport’s status online. The passport office received her application and birth certificate on April 16.
Rhonda kept checking online, but nothing changed about her status. She kept calling. One agent advised she could try for an in-person emergency appointment two weeks prior to her trip. She contacted her Congressional office. They replied with a form for her to complete. She never heard back from them.
Two weeks prior to her trip departure, a Passport Agency representative told her she had to wait until one week prior to their trip to book an appointment. One week prior, they told her the ONE appointment still available was in San Juan. They live in the Midwest.
Three days prior to the trip, we had to cancel their dream trip. Eleven weeks from the time her passport was sent. She received it a day or two later. But too late for the trip.
>> Recommended Reading: 11 Essential Passport Facts <<
10 Steps you should take to have your passport in hand and protect your trip:
Check the expiration date. Some destinations may require a passport to be valid for as long as six months past the date you are expecting to leave their country.
I suggest applying for your passport or your renewal at least four months in advance
I also suggest that you bite the bullet and pay the $60 expedited fee if you have four months or less until you will be traveling.
Whether you are applying for your first passport or a renewal, thoroughly review the U.S. Department of State’s passport information. Sit with some time and a cup of coffee (or any other favorite beverage) and your favorite note-taking method whether that’s a blank Word document, blank email or an old-fashioned pen and tablet. Take notes and download the applicable application.
There are over 7,000 U.S. Passport Acceptance Facilities where you can go in person. These include some post offices and courthouses. First-time passports must be applied for in person.
This won’t be a popular statement, but I’ve had a lot of clients over the years who have gotten misinformation from post office employees about passports. Not to say there haven’t been many thoroughly trained and continually updated employees, but you’re the one paying the price for misinformation. It’s your responsibility to read what’s on the passport site and go by that information that may not agree with what you’re being told. People (me included) tend to want to believe the advice that best fits what we want to hear. If there’s a conflict with what you’re being told (especially about timing) versus what’s the most recent on the website, go by the website.
Keep checking your application status online or by email.
If you are traveling within two weeks, contact your congressional representative to see if they can expedite the process.
It can be especially tricky if you have multiple trips in one year. You’ll need time to send off your new or renewal passport application between trips, trusting that you’ll have your new passport back in time for your upcoming trips. Get out your calendar, look at your trip dates, check your passport expiration date, and make a good plan. You may need to have your application and photo done and ready to mail off everything (overnight mail and with expedited processing) the day after you return from a trip. Since you have to mail back your current passport, you’ll be limited on where you can go until that new passport comes back. If your travel dates are too tight, I’d suggest contacting one of the above-mentioned passport expediting companies.
Rhonda and Dan: Part Two
So what happened with Rhonda and Dan? They thankfully had a “Cancel for Any Reason” (“CFAR”) coverage on their plan. Trip insurance doesn’t normally cover if you have to cancel because of missing documentation such as passports. We had to wait until their claim was turned down so they could then take advantage of having “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage. But by then, rebooking their trip for later this summer was much more expensive. The “good news” is that they got 90% of their value back to reuse. And I was able to get them one of the very last spots of the season on this trip. But the cruise and airfare were both much higher than the original price. But they are finally about to leave on their dream trip and I hope it’s even more exceptional than the original plan had been.
"Danger, dear traveler, danger!" Don’t risk your vacation or your hard-earned money. Consider the realities of getting a passport. Follow the above advice to protect your trip.
When you are ready to plan your cruise or tour vacation, contact my agency. I’d love to talk to you to see if we can assist you in planning your next vacation adventure!