US passport application delays ground summer travelers | US news [wafact]

Seeking a valid US passport for that 2023 trip? Buckle up, wishful traveler, for a very different journey before you venture to the airport.

A much-feared backup of US passport applications has hit a wall of government bureaucracy as worldwide post-pandemic travel rebounds – with too few humans to handle the load.

The result is a maddening pre-travel purgatory defined, at best, by costly uncertainty.

With family dreams and big money on the line, passport seekers describe a slow-motion agony of waiting, worrying, holding the line, refreshing the screen, complaining to Congress, paying extra fees and following incorrect directions.

Some applicants are buying additional plane tickets in order to rush to collect passports being processed by government offices in other cities, in order to get their hands on it in time to make the flights they booked in the first place.

So grim is the outlook that US officials aren’t even denying the problem or predicting when it will ease. They’re blaming the epic wait times on lingering pandemic-related staffing shortages and a pause of online processing this year.

That’s left the passport agency flooded with a record-busting 500,000 applications a week. The deluge is on-track to top last year’s 22 million passports issued, the state department said.

“With Covid, the bottom basically dropped out of the system,” secretary of state Antony Blinken told a House subcommittee on 23 March.

When demand for travel all but disappeared during the pandemic, he said, the government let contractors go and reassigned staff that had been dedicated to handling passports.

Meanwhile, after avoiding travel during the pandemic, many forget where they stashed their passport or when it expires, until it’s too late for planned upcoming travel.

“To get a passport appointment these days is like winning the lottery lol,” wrote one hopeful traveler on Twitter.

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Another user quipped that getting a passport was harder than securing tickets to Taylor Swift’s world tour.

“Y’all think getting Taylor Swift tickets is hard…try getting an appointment at literally any US passport office,” the user tweeted.

In light of the rigamarole, many have posted helpful how-to guides for others to avoid their passport problems. One mother posted a Twitter thread explaining how to secure expedited passports after trying to obtain one for her child.

“This is how I lose my mind … good old-fashioned, endless-classical-music-playing bureaucracy,” she added, referring to unsuccessful attempts to secure a passport appointment via telephone.

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