As travel continues to turn back on, with it is coming some growing pains. One of the biggest has been an increase in the time it takes to get a passport. And while travel advisor business is finally coming back on, passport waiting times, which are stretching into 18 weeks now, are becoming more and more of a concern.
“I feel like every day I’m getting an email from somebody asking for assistance getting their passport expedited,” Melissa Lisell, the executive vice president of Dallas’ Lisell Travel told TMR on Thursday.
“The passport issue has not gone away, first of all, it is definitely something that we are challenged within the travel industry,” Sanya Weston, the CEO at Michigan’s Your Premier Travel Services said. “What we talk about in our office is basically preparing for that.”
“I have had many clients have to cancel/postpone trips due to the passport not coming in time,” Julie Langham of Georgia’s Vacations to Remember told TMR.
The State Department is adding staff to help with the delays—a spokesperson told TMR this week that over 150 staff will return to work at 21 agencies across the country, which could help increase capacity, which will help applications move along.
However, there is going to be a ramping-up period, so applicants are still asked to remain patient.
“For the time being the current wait from when a customer mails their application to when they receive their passport will remain 12-18 weeks,” the spokesperson said.
“This means Americans who are waiting on passports for travel this summer should make alternate plans if they haven’t been able to get an appointment at one of our agencies for a last-minute passport. Appointments remain extremely limited.”
The options to cut that time are limited—applicants can pay for the Expedited service, which costs an additional $60, but that only means that the timeframe goes from 12 to 18 weeks to 12 weeks, which includes up to 6 weeks for processing and up to 6 weeks for mailing times.
The spokesperson also told TMR that while several companies offer quicker passport times, those are private companies and they are not affiliated with the Department of State.
“Be wary-they charge additional fees, and you will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person at a Passport Agency. You are still required to appear in person at an acceptance facility if applying on Form DS-11, even when using a courier service,” the spokesperson said.
Travel advisor guidance
Advisors speaking to TMR had different approaches to dealing with the issue.
Langham said that her advice would be to email the office of your Senator, which might help get things moving.
“I have had many clients have to cancel/postpone trips due to the passport not coming in time but I have also had many reach out to their senator (per my advice) to have them expedited and it’s worked! My daughter sent hers in for renewal from South Carolina on 4/1 and my son sent his in from North Carolina on 5/1 and his came back before hers,” she said.
“The best thing to do is make sure your agents are getting copies of your client’s passports,” Weston said. “A lot of people don’t pull them out until the last minute and that when they discover it’s either expired or their name has changed. Whatever the case is”
Weston said checking for passports early is the number one change that they’ve made in their office and advised travel professionals to be proactive in that area.
Others said that the passport issue has helped them guide consumers, and gain a client.
“I had someone reach out to me who had booked their family trip to Atlantis direct but when their expedited passports didn’t show up, they needed my help to move them to a domestic destination. Fortunately, their passports arrived just in time and they were able to go but because I was there to help them out in a bind, I gained them as a future client,” Kerry Tice, an IC with Enticing Vacations, an affiliate of Mann Travels in Charlotte, N.C., told TMR.
“That being said, there have been tons of reports of issues with delayed passports as of late. My advice is to send an email reminder to your clients or post it on social media to plan several months ahead for passport renewals to avoid having to change plans at the last minute!”