Travelers desperate for passports

Perhaps the toughest appointment to book in New York is a slot at the Passport Agency, where desperate travelers queue for hours to get their travel documents.

About 30 people stood outside the office at 376 Hudson St. Thursday morning, even though walk-ins were not allowed. Others exchange tips in Facebook groups or besiege their congress representatives for help.

The State Department is still operating under some COVID-19 staffing restrictions, which have virtually eliminated the ability to obtain a passport in person within three days of international travel, which was the norm before the pandemic. The waiting time to receive a new passport or an extension in the mail is now 18 weeks – more than double what it was before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Even paying $ 60 for expedited service doesn’t always help.

“I’m so nervous, I have to travel on Sunday,” said Mirla Warrell from the Bronx on Thursday outside the passport office in Manhattan, where she was hoping to get in. “They don’t give me any information when I call.”

Mirla Warrell from the BronxMirla Warrell is one of many who sweat over her passport status with increased waiting times.James Keivom

Warrell arrived with plane tickets to prove she had planned a trip to Honduras to see her father, who was hospitalized. Her daughter’s passport, which she applied for in June, never arrived despite spending more than $ 200, including the express service fee.

Maria Rodriguez, a schoolteacher from Queens, applied for her passport in April to go to Spain and see a nephew who is a doctor and will treat her back pain.

“I thought four months before my trip would be enough,” said Rodriguez, who brought a chair to sit on while waiting because she can’t stand for long. “I wait five hours on the phone, then after five hours they tell me that there are no more appointments and that I have to try again.”

Maria Rodriguez from Queens is waiting for passport service at the New York Passport Agency on Thursday without an appointment.Maria Rodriguez from Queens waits in line for passport service at the New York Passport Agency on Thursday without an appointment.James Keivom

Bronx resident Mircis Gomez, who was hoping to travel to the Dominican Republic for a cousin’s wedding on Tuesday, waited seven hours but was not allowed in and saw no one enter without an appointment.

The State Department says anyone with a life or death emergency can contact them for an instant passport, and it offers a limited number of in-person appointments for non-emergencies within three days of travel.

Mircis GomezMircis Gomez is waiting in line at the passport agency.James Keivom

But the department’s website rarely shows available dates.

Jesse Hansen, a middle school principal from San Francisco, arrived at the passport office straight from Kennedy Airport with all of his luggage on Thursday. His family had gone to Costa Rica for a vacation, but his passport had expired and he could not leave.

“I’ve been trying to get an appointment here for the past 24 hours and they tell me they can’t make an appointment,” said Hansen. “Here, Connecticut, there is no appointment anywhere else. There is nothing I can do. “

The lack of options is leading some travelers to join Facebook groups like US Passport and Visa Services, where they swap tips and appointments, much like what some have done to get a COVID-19 vaccine slot in the winter.

Victoria Linchong from BrooklynVictoria Linchong, who lives in Brooklyn, almost flew to Michigan to take advantage of an open date.

Brooklyn-based Victoria Linchong, who is slated to fly to Berlin this month to see her boyfriend seven months apart, panicked last month when her passport failed to arrive.

Through the Facebook group, she learned that if she called the State Department, which she did more than 50 times one evening, starting at midnight before giving up and starting again at 5 a.m., she might have better luck appointing an appointment

She found a vacant place – in Michigan.

“I was just about to pay for a flight to Detroit,” she said. “I was almost ready to do it.”

Linchong kept trying and managed to get a seat in New York City, then learned that her passport was in the mail. She received it on Tuesday and “gave” her Manhattan appointment to another traveler.

People with appointments wait behind a barricade for passport serviceAbout 30 people stood outside the office at 376 Hudson St. Thursday morning, even though walk-ins were not allowed.James Keivom

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) said her office had received about 250 applications for passport assistance since June and resolved most of them.

“The State Department needs to get its staff back to work to deal with the backlog,” Malliotakis said.

“We have no higher priority than the health and safety of our employees and our customers as we continue to work towards the resumption of normal operations,” said a State Department spokeswoman. “We encourage the public to plan ahead and apply well in advance of planned trips due to our limited deadlines. “