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Passport processing delays still affecting travelers; routine service taking up to five months

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 12:29 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - “A little planning goes a long way.” That is the mindset travelers need to have moving forward, especially if they plan to apply for or renew their passport.

The passport application process has been experiencing major delays nationwide. Whether you show up to a passport facility in Huntsville or renew by mail, routine service is taking up to 18 weeks from the date of submission. That means if you had plans to travel outside of the country before the end of the year, but still need a passport, that trip may not be possible.

Expedited services are available, but that can still take up to three months to process and return. According to Clay Ingram with AAA Alabama, there are two major reasons for this delay. First, there is a surge in the desire to travel. Second, passport application facilities are short-staffed.

“The pandemic has changed our entire world and it has certainly changed this,” Ingram said. “The process is taking much much longer now because there are so many people getting passports issued for the first time, or getting them renewed all at the same time.”

Even if you already have a passport and think you are good to go, Ingram said it’s vital to check the expiration date.

“The other side of the coin is -- if you already have a passport and you are planning to go somewhere in 2022, you need to check the expiration date because a lot of countries won’t allow people to come in unless their passport is valid for at least 6 months or more,” Ingram said.

To be really safe, AAA recommends applying for a U.S. passport at least six months or longer before your trip.

The bottom line is, whether you are renewing a passport, or getting one for the first time, it’s going to take awhile. However, you can minimize the possibility for additional delays and avoid common mistakes.

Ingram said it’s important for travelers to understand how the process works. You need to submit the right documents, have an up-to-date valid passport photo, and double check government fees.

“You have to be sure your paperwork is exactly right,” Ingram said. “Again, very strict, very specific instructions and things you have to do and if anything is off...even if you make out your check for the wrong amount when you mail it in, they will send it back to you. They are really strict about it and you have to be sure everything is exactly right.”

You can get your passport photo taken at a AAA branch. AAA members receive a discount on a set of two passport photos, classic members pay $10 plus tax, and non-members pay $15 plus tax. More information can be found here: Passport photos.

Ingram said submitting the right photo is key, and failing to do so could make the process much more complicated.

“It’s hard to find somebody that does good passport photos because there are a lot of very specific instructions,” he said. “You have to have the right type of background, it has to be the right color background, you have to have the proper lighting on it...if all of those specifications aren’t exactly right, they return your application to you and you have to start over.”

If you would like to visit a AAA branch in the Tennessee Valley, you can use the branch locator here: AAA Office Locator.

TRAVEL AGENTS

If you are overwhelmed by the passport application or renewal process, you can use AAA Alabama’s free travel agents, who are ready and willing to help.

They have all of the proper forms available and can help you get organized before going to a local post office to start the process.

“We try hard to keep people informed about things and this is just one of those things that people need to know about,” Ingram said. “So if they are planning to travel they are prepared and they are not going to get shut down at the last minute.”

In addition to helping you prepare for the passport application or renewal process, the travel agents can help you plan your vacation. You do not need to be a member.

“Even if you book something with them, there are no fees or commissions charged to you or anything,” Ingram said. “It is all completely free.”

During the pandemic, Ingram said their travel agents were at a standstill but now, they are twice as busy.

“It’s like they are doing all the business for 2020 and 2021 all at the same time,” Ingram said.

If you would like to use a professional passport specialist or travel agent, visit www.aaa.com/passport to access the service.

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