SEATTLE – It’s a tough time for travelers for a variety of reasons, with ever-changing airline schedules and sky-high gas prices, but if you need a passport, the challenges are even greater.
On Tuesday, a notable crowd formed outside the passport office in Seattle. Some had been waiting since before the doors opened at 8 a.m. in hopes of getting an appointment. Others waited despite appointment times already past.
“I don’t miss my date,” said Greg Cook, who arrived about 30 minutes before his 1 p.m. appointment. “I seem to miss my date.”
Cook is in a tough spot. He flew to Seattle the day before July 4 to obtain an emergency passport. He was flying to Mexico with his dog when he lost his passport. His dog was traveling ahead of him, but when he lost his passport, he couldn’t find himself. He desperately wants to cross the border to see his dog.
“I spent the last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday calling,” Cook explained. “Finally around 2pm I was able to get the appointment here – I was in Chicago, the only place I was able to get the appointment was in Seattle.”
This line he is referring to is for passport emergencies. Usually you can request an appointment 2 weeks before. However, if someone cancels, you can optionally pick up the appointment. That’s why Cook spent days calling what he estimates to be more than 200 times.
He and others have described that sometimes you will find an appointment, but by the time you answer the questions associated with it, the spot will be taken by someone on another line.
A Seattle office worker told a customer, “Over 200,000 people call this number every day. That’s the reality. You have to keep calling, they’re two hours ahead of us, so 6 hours morning is the best time to call.”
“Inefficient, understaffed and, I would say, not very empathetic to people who need emergency passports,” Cook described.
The worker, wearing a lanyard identifying him as a public affairs officer, told FOX 13 News there was no holdup, it’s just a volume issue and a small waiting room on the inside. He insisted there was no heist.
Inquiries sent to the State Department in DC have not been answered – as the man pointed out to people online, they are working on East Coast deadlines. So, it’s unclear if the problems in Seattle are happening in other offices across the country, or if it’s a one-time or long-term issue.
Jeff Perkins, who drove in from Portland, said he waited almost all day for a walk-in date. He spent several hours waiting in line before they finally told everyone they couldn’t see anyone that day.
Perkins was due to fly to Munich for professional training early Tuesday morning. His passport is valid, but it is expiring soon. A rule that had been in place that would have allowed him to travel was in place, due to the long backlog of passports being processed in the country, but that rule expired on July 1.
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“So I’m rescheduling my flight for an appointment that you may not be able to get,” he said.
Currently, the State Department notes on its website that the standard wait time for a passport has dropped from 18 weeks to 8 to 11 weeks. If you pay extra for an expedited passport, you can reduce the wait time to 5-7 weeks, however, for people like Cook and Perkins, the ability to get an emergency passport means traveling long distances to ‘at a desk with an opening, or potentially fly .
Perkins said an operator suggested he fly the same day to Detroit. That wasn’t an option for him, so he plans to arrive early Wednesday morning 1-2 hours before the doors open for a second try, with or without an appointment.