Friday, June 8, 2007

Keystone Cops passport officials strike again

Those of you who follow the Smarter Cruising Blog know that we've been trying to keep track of the ins and outs, ups and downs and over-the-hills-and- through-the-valley doings of the U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department vis-a-vis new regulations mandating that everyone traveling by air or land out of the country carry a valid passport to re-enter the U.S.

This has mainly affected people traveling within the Western Hemisphere, where, previously, other forms of government ID have sufficed.

The new rules, instituted earlier this year, have created havoc for travelers -- including many cruisers, even though ship passengers embarking from U.S. ports have been exempted for the next year or so. That's because if you have to fly out of the country to take your cruise -- say, to Canada for an Alaska cruise -- you still have to have a passport to get back.

Don't get me wrong -- I think every American who plans to travel abroad should have a passport, for many reasons. The problem is that the government instituted these regulations without making adequate preparation to be able to issue all the millions of new passports that any fifth grader could have antiticpated would be needed. (Lack of preparation seems to be a common theme with the current Administration.)

The result has been a backlog that extends up to three months or more, and people are missing vacations, business trips, weddings -- whatever occasions might take them abroad.

My own passport was up for renewal this summer. Since I travel abroad a lot on business, I couldn't take the chance of sending off my passport into a black hole for weeks or months, so I paid more than $300 to a visa service to get an expedited version. The average traveler should not have to do that (and, in fact, if they all tried, I'm sure the expedited versions would pile up in a huge backlog too).

Now, in a show of apparent good sense, the State Department will reportedly put a hold on the whole "have to have a passport" rule until the end of September 2007, allowing Americans to make their summer trips to countries (such as Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and most of the Caribbean) that don't require passports to enter. You will need proof that you've applied for a passport and, of course, may have to go through extra security checks at the airport, but at least you'll be able to travel.

Stay tuned for further developments.

No comments: