Back in March, I took my children to the post office in Willow Glen to renew Neil’s passport and to get a new passport for Kelly. At the same time, I sent in the paperwork and money to renew my own passport by mail. As I wrote then, it took an extraordinarily long time to get to a window, and the time frame for expecting a passport was also pretty long. The clerk told me to expect our new passports sometime before May 23, and to call the National Passport Agency if we didn’t have them by that date. We have no imminent travel plans, and I figured having our passports by June would be just fine.
But when June came and no passports were in my mailbox, I began to get worried. Two weeks into June with no passports, and I began to actually get anxious. I called the National Passport Agency and found out they didn’t even want to take my call unless I was about to travel within the next 2 weeks–whereupon I could sit on hold for several hours and pay another $60 to get each passport expedited. Another week, I decided to fake it and try calling them anyway: and it turns out, even if you are travelling within 2 weeks, you’re not going to be able to get through on the phone lines! I used their online system to check on our passports. All it told me was that Kelly’s and my passport were “processing” which could mean anything in between having been recieved and having been sent out. Checking on Neil was even more worrisome because someone else with the same last 4 digits of his Social Security number has a pending passport too, so the system could tell me nothing at all. And as for email: pshaw, I sent a query, but it’s never been answered. The National Passport Agency’s site says it takes 2-4 days to answer their email; but then it also says you should only wait 12 weeks for your new passports–and I’m coming up on 16 weeks.
Since it’s summer, I can well imagine the passport agency is slammed even more than it’s ever been slammed before. Everyone who planned to go abroad during summer vacation needs their passport, and they’ll pay the extra fee to move their passport applications ahead of mine. But having been told to expect the passports in May, I didn’t know whether we didn’t have our passports because of application volume, or because my passports had been stolen. My vivid imagination had one of Osama bin Laden’s buddies using my stolen passport. Hey, given the quality of my new passport picture, it wouldn’t take much more than a blonde wig and good shave, and they don’t always look too closely at the passport, especially on the Canadian borders. And when that skeezy terrorist does his terrorist thang, who’s gonna get put on the no-fly list?–not Mr. Cross-Dressing Terrorist, but Yours Truly! Peter laughed at my fears and pointed out the National Passport Agency is a government beaurocracy. It was far more likely our old passports (and the applications) were propping up a wobbly table in the break room so the passport makers could write their latest complaint to their union about having to work too hard, while stretching out their 10th daily mandated break.
A few days ago, though, I really was at my wit’s end. I resorted to the last form of communication I had: snail mail. I sent a letter just wanting to know when I should realistically expect our passports to the National Passport Agency, and copied it to the U.S. State Department (which oversees the passport agency) and the Willow Glen post office.
As soon as they received my letter, the Willow Glen post office, bless them, called me. It seems all they can really do is the same that I’ve already done, and check the status of the applications via the internet: which will just say “processing” or nothing at all. I did have a real live human being to speak to though, and he gave me a better inkling of what the real wait is like. Since the Willow Glen post office is apparently the only place in this chain that answers calls, he said the office gets 10-15 calls a day from distraught passport applicants. Even expedited applications aren’t being processed in the promised time. He told me if you are travelling imminently, the best course is to go to the San Francisco office with proof of application. It’ll probably be an insanely long day, but you can leave with passport in hand. If not, well, he told me he’s gotten calls from people who’ve been waiting for their new passports since December. That’s a seven month wait, and ongoing.
At this rate, I hope our new passports won’t be expired before we receive them…
Update: I received my new passport today, June 23. We’re still waiting on Neil’s and Kelly’s.
Second update: Neil and Kelly’s passports arrived June 27: that’s a 14-1/2 week wait. The State Department’s lost passport office called me the same day and had been able to tell me the passports were on their way. So-if you’re renewing (or anewing) your passport, give yourself a 16-week window.