SEATTLE – It’s a difficult time for travelers for a number of reasons, including flight schedules changing and gas prices skyrocketing – but when you need a passport, the challenges are even greater.
A conspicuous crowd formed in front of the Seattle passport office on Tuesday. Some had been waiting before the doors opened at 8am hoping to get an appointment. Others waited despite appointments that had already expired.
“I don’t miss my appointment,” said Greg Cook, who arrived about 30 minutes before his 1 p.m. appointment. “I seem to be missing my appointment.”
Cook is in a difficult position. He flew to Seattle the day before July 4th to get an emergency passport. He was flying to Mexico with his dog when he lost his passport. His dog traveled ahead of him, but when he lost his passport, he was unable to meet. He’s dying to get back across the border to see his dog.
“I spoke on the phone last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Cook explained. “Finally around 2 p.m. I was able to get the appointment here — I was in Chicago, the only place I could get the appointment was in Seattle.”
The line he is referring to is for emergency passport situations. Normally you can request an appointment 2 weeks in advance. However, if someone cancels, you may be able to make up the appointment. Because of this, Cook called for days, which he estimates was more than 200 times.
He and others described how sometimes you get an appointment, but until you’ve dealt with the issues involved, someone on another line snaps up the spot.
A Seattle office worker told a customer, “Over 200,000 people call this number every day. This is the real best time to call.”
“Inefficient, understaffed and, I would say, not very empathetic to people who need emergency passports,” Cook described.
The worker, who wore a lanyard identifying him as a public affairs officer, told FOX 13 News that there was no robbery, just a matter of volume and a small waiting room inside. He insisted there was no raid.
Inquiries to the State Department in DC have gone unanswered — as the man told people in line, they work on East Coast timeframes. So it’s unclear whether the problems in Seattle are replicating other offices around the country, or whether it’s a one-off or long-term problem.
Jeff Perkins, who traveled from Portland, said he had been waiting most of the day for an appointment to visit. He spent several hours in line before they finally told everyone they couldn’t see anyone that day.
Perkins was supposed to fly to Munich for vocational training early Tuesday morning. His passport is valid but will expire soon. Due to the long backlog of processing passports across the country, there was a rule that would have allowed him to travel, but that rule expired on July 1.
TIED TOGETHER: Flight cancellations slow as 4th of July weekend ends
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“So I’m rescheduling my flight for an appointment that you might not be able to get,” he said.
Currently, the State Department notes on its website that the standard waiting time for a passport has dropped from 18 weeks to 8-11 weeks. Paying extra for an expedited pass can cut the wait to 5-7 weeks, but for the likes of Cook and Perkins, being able to get an emergency pass means long trips to an office with an opening, or possibly a flight.
Perkins said an operator suggested he fly to Detroit on the day. That wasn’t an option for him, so he plans to come early Wednesday morning 1-2 hours before the doors open for a second try, with or without an appointment.