A Passport Crisis is Coming: What Agents Need to Know

by Doug Gollan

The passport “crisis” of 2007 is about to return in 2016, according to a senior government official, speaking at the recent ASTA Global Convention in Washington D.C.

Nearly a decade ago, new requirements mandating Americans to have passports for travel to Mexico and Canada led to a surge in applications and a backlog in processing the documents.

With many of those documents set to expire over the next 24 months, coupled with an increase in Americans traveling abroad (today 125 million U.S. citizens have passports), Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary of Passport Services at the U.S. State Department, said, “If I haven’t scared you to death, I haven’t accomplished my mission.”

Sprague spoke during the ASTA’s first Global Travel Exchange, an event aimed at connecting international ASTA members with U.S. members.

She warned travel advisors to make sure the first thing they ask clients about the status of their current passports.

Renew—or apply—ASAP
Agents should advise clients to take care of passport renewals as soon as possible or, for those seeking a passport for the first time, to apply for one right away, Sprague said.

In addition to saving expedited processing fees, getting clients ahead of the curve will ensure they are not disappointed by not receiving their passports in time for their trips, she added.

Sprague also noted that it’s not true that there’s a specific waiting period before a passport expires before people can seek a renewal.

Another issue is that next January citizens who run out of visa pages will have to obtain a new passport instead of having additional pages inserted. Two options will be available: either 28 or 52 pages with no difference in cost.

Sprague noted that more than 90% of passports that are returned have less than two pages used.

Many countries require passports be valid for six months on arrival, so agents should check on this. Agents should also be aware that passports for children under 16 are valid only for five years.

Passport season
In the past “passport [application and renewal] season” began in mid-January, peaked in March and then ran steadily through August before trailing off, said Sprague.

Since last year, the trend has been for it to continue rising throughout the year. “This summer, it never slowed down,” Sprague noted.

While passports aren’t required for cruises that begin and end in U.S. ports, Sprague said agents should encourage clients to obtain passports anyway, noting that people may get sick or injured when visiting ports and have to fly back.

And when clients lose their passports, agents should have them check thoroughly before reporting it because once the passport is reported missing, it can’t be reinstated even if it’s found, Sprague said.

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