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Major passport delays cause travel troubles

Here are the answers to your top passport questions

Here are the answers to your top passport questions
Here are the answers to your top passport questions

Passport delays have thousands of Americans on pins and needles. We are hearing from some of you who have been waiting months to receive passports when it used to take weeks. Our KPRC 2 Consumer team is looking into the bureaucratic backlog and getting some answers.

Before the COVID pandemic the average wait once you mailed your passport application was six to eight weeks. Now the United States State Department says it could take up to 18 weeks (four and a half months) to get your passport back! With more families traveling you can imagine, this is causing a big headache for a lot of people!

Passport delay has mom in a panic before daughter’s wedding

Lisa Martinez-Heitman is a proud mom to her daughter who got engaged in January. She was hoping to attend her wedding in Mexico but is having issues getting her passport updated.

“Someone somewhere has to be able to help me get this resolved. I can’t bear the idea of not making it to my daughter’s wedding,” said Lisa Martinez-Heitman.

Newly married herself, Lisa mailed her old passport and an application to get her name changed to match her airline ticket.

“At the point in time that I sent all this in, it indicated that the lead time on it was 10 to 12 weeks. So I assumed that being 16 weeks out, I’m fine, shouldn’t be an issue. Everything should be great,” said Lisa.

Her first indication everything was not great was more than two months later. The State Department sent a letter near the end of May asking Lisa to retake one of the passport photos she had sent. She rushed to get it back using Priority mail. But after that, all updates about the process stopped. Getting through on the phone was nearly impossible.

“But I would press the button to get to the right area. And as soon as you know it would get to that line, it would just be a fast busy signal. And then it would just hang up on me,” said Lisa.

Regional passport offices that usually take walk-ins are available for appointment only.

“There were no appointments available in Louisiana, Dallas, Houston,” said Lisa. “I checked over the Laredo site, I checked everywhere I could, trying to find an available appointment.”

Finding help for delayed passport

Just one week before the nuptials Lisa sent emails to every elected Representative she could. Congressman Troy Nehls responded.

“There are so many people that are frustrated by this,” said Rep, Troy Nehls. “Many of them that are looking for passports and try to reach out to our office for help. We’ve been successful with some; and there have been some we’re not so successful with.”

Representative Nehls’ staff did track Lisa’s passport down. She got her passport within an hour of her flight Friday. But tracking down answers as to what’s causing the backlog is not as easy. The website seems to imply COVID-19 is still causing the delays.

Let this be your warning to send in your passport application at least six months before travel abroad if you know you will need it that far out. Contact your US Representative if you need help. You can find your representative by putting in your address here.

If Nehls is your representative, click here: Nehls.house.gov. Navigate to “Services” and click on “Help with a Federal Agency.”

One man who waited nearly 4 months was finally given a U.S. State Department phone number that he says didn’t keep him on hold for hours. The number: (603) 427-3100.

Our KPRC 2 team put together a few of the top passport questions and helpful answers.

What’s the quickest I can get a passport?

The US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs does have expedited service for life or death emergencies and also urgent travel services. You have to qualify and in some cases make an appointment. There is a checklist of what you need to know before heading to your nearest passport office location.

Can I travel while waiting for my passport?

We have gotten questions from people who have sent off their passports in the mail and are waiting for it to return. Some are wondering if they have a copy of the passport along with a copy of the paperwork, could they travel? The answer: No, you cannot travel internationally without a valid passport. Photocopies are not acceptable.

What do I need to know if I am applying in person for a passport?

You must apply in person using a Form DS-11 but only if you also have one of the requirements:

  • You are applying for your first U.S. passport
  • You are under age 16
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago

There is much more information about this process on the https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/apply-in-person.html

How can I check the application status of my passport?

You can check the application status of your passport online or by phone. You will need the following information:

  • Last Name
  • Include suffixes (ex. Jones III, Patton Jr, etc.)
  • Include hyphens as appropriate (ex. Jackson-Smith)
  • Date of Birth (MM/DD/YYYY)
  • Last Four Digits of Social Security Number

You can access the online passport status system here.

  • Call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 (TDD/TTY) to speak to a Customer Service Representative (Se habla español) on Mondays-Fridays from 8:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time (excluding federal holidays).
  • You may not be able to get a status update for 6 weeks after you apply or renew.

What are some reasons you can’t get a passport? Or what are some reasons a passport can get denied?

There are reasons for a passport application being denied and some of the mistakes can be common. Mistakes include: incomplete application, submitting the wrong photo, insufficient proof of citizenship, not paying the right amount, you owe child support, you owe back taxes or you have an unpaid federal loan.

There is a toll-free phone number to call if you have any questions. The number is (877) 487-2778, and a representative is available Monday-Friday from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.


About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.