Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
Do I keep trying to call and see if I can get an in-person appointment closer to home? Or do I try to get my original passport back and apply for renewal via a third-party service? — Dave, D.C.
You’re one of many people dealing with passport woes on this side of the pandemic. For the past couple of years, Americans have been dealing with backlogs (from when passport agencies were shut down), scammers and conundrums like yours: finding out their passports were expired right before a trip.
So what can be done in your case? Not much.
“Unfortunately, once it has been submitted, the only option you have is to get an appointment to go in-person to get them to process the passport faster," said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, which represents more than 70,000 travel advisers.
Rena Bitter, assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department, said that if your travel is within two weeks, you can contact the National Passport Information Center to check on your application status, which sounds like you did. (Applicants not within that two-week window can check their status online.) If it’s tough to get someone on the phone, keep trying, but know that they’re behind.
“As with many services, our passport operations are still recovering from the pandemic’s impact,” Bitter said, adding that the agency has taken steps to lower wait times.
If you didn’t get expedited services when you first applied, Bitter said that, depending on the status of your case, you may be able to add the expediting fee for faster service, or the 1-2 day delivery fee so that your passport arrives quicker.
Steven Loucks, spokesperson for the travel agency OvationNetwork, said that because your passport is already being processed, there’s nothing you can do except wait. He had a colleague who recently applied for an expedited passport renewal and got it back in three weeks, even though “every time she checked the website, it said it hadn’t started processing right up to the day she received it,” Loucks said.
Silvana Frappier, owner of the travel agency North Star Destinations, said to keep calling your preferred passport agencies for an in-person interview.
You mentioned not being able to make it to New Hampshire on the day they offered, but there may be later appointments you could make? It’s not unheard-of for travelers to go long distances for a chance at getting their passports sooner.
“I’ve actually just had clients fly to Chicago for theirs, and they live on the West Coast,” said Duncan Greenfield-Turk, managing director for Global Travel Moments. “Their only other option was Hawaii.”
His advice would be to take whatever appointment you can get (and can travel to), or look to push your trip.
Shayna Mizrahi, founder and CEO of Vive Voyage travel agency, said many clients are asking about expediting passports. With summer here, travelers are realizing their passports are expired “and frantically looking to alleviate the problem of renewing their passport as quickly as possible,” she said.
Big travel agencies like the one she works with (GTC, an Internova travel company) may have inside connections to speed up the process, but if you weren’t working with them from the get-go, “it is just a waiting game at this point,” Mizrahi says.
Passport wait times are still slower than they were before the pandemic. Right now, the State Department says it should take 8 to 11 weeks to get a new passport or get one renewed. (That’s from when your application gets to the passport agency, not when you send it in.) For an extra $60, you can get it expedited for a 5-to-7-week arrival time.
If you have international travel coming up within 14 days, you can try calling to get an appointment for the Urgent Travel Service, like you are doing. Finally, there is the Life-or-Death Emergency Service that can get you a passport in three business days.
As far as third-party services go, Bitter said, you won’t receive your passport any faster at this point. These companies submit applications on behalf of customers for a fee, but you would still have to be the one to appear in-person at an agency.
“We recommend that anyone considering using a courier service do their due diligence by researching the company, since you will be sharing with them your most sensitive identification information and documents,” Bitter said.
Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.
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