'We canceled the whole trip.' Would-be travelers say passport delays are forcing vacation cancellations

The State Department, which processes passports, is attributing the delays to a surge in demand.

Rachel Yonkunas

Jul 13, 2023, 9:48 PM

Updated 376 days ago


A surge in demand for passports has roiled summer vacation plans. Delays are forcing Long Island families to cancel trips with no refunds—and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
Robin Fiala, of Holbrook, and her family have a lot to unpack and they haven’t even gone on vacation. Passport delays grounded their July trip to France.
“We should be getting ready to head to JFK,” said Fiala. “I can't tell you the angst that I have been feeling. I actually went into panic mode.”
Fiala submitted passport applications for her two sons back in March. They were received by The U.S. Department of State on April 5. When she hadn’t received their passports by June, she started to panic.
The Holbrook mom spent weeks calling her local congressmen and the passport hotline for answers. Out of the 26 regional passport agencies across the country, Fiala was told the only available emergency appointment was in Hawaii. After 15 weeks of waiting, time ran out and she had to cancel their trip that they had been planning since February.
“We canceled the whole trip and I don't know if we're going to get the $5,000 back from Air France,” said Fiala. “We lost museum tickets that are not refundable, train tickets that were not refundable.”
The State Department, which processes passports, is attributing the delays to a surge in demand. The agency projects to receive around 21 million applications this year alone, a record-setting number.
Despite this influx, Team 12 Investigates found that there are only about 1,400 passport specialists adjudicating applications nationwide.
“From January through June, we authorized 30,000 – 40,000 overtime hours each month,” a State Department spokesperson wrote in an email. “We also have volunteers from across the Department of State working on surge teams, including retirees and new hires adjudicating passports before reporting to other assignments.”
The agency maintains that processing times can take up to 13 weeks, but families have been waiting longer than expected—especially in New York. Passport specialists issued 1.4 million passports in the Empire State last year, which is more than pre-pandemic levels.
Sabrina Camilo, of East Meadow, is hoping to go on a July trip to the Dominican Republic with a group of friends and family. She reached out to Team 12 Investigates after waiting 16 weeks for her 13-year-old son’s passport renewal.
“Every time I check that website, it’s in process,” Camilo said. “It’s just a huge disappointment, especially when you think you're doing everything within proper timeframes. You think you're doing everything well in advance.”
Camilo also spent weeks calling her local congressman and the passport hotline. Team 12 Investigates took these concerns directly to the U.S. Department of State. Hours after we reached out to the agency, Camilo received an email stating her son’s passport was approved and in the mail.
However, Fiala was not as lucky. These delays cost her something she can’t put a price on—Parisian memories with her family.
“I would have expedited,” said Fiala. “I won't make that mistake again, but it's not fair that you have to pay all of those passport fees, which are quite expensive, and then pay additional fees because they're not doing their job in a timely fashion.”
The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998, the union representing Passport Specialists nationwide, said they have never had enough manpower, despite workloads doubling over the years.
Here the information a State Department spokesperson provided to Team 12 Investigates:
What has been the cause of these delays?
"The Department is experiencing a surge in passport demand, and during some weeks, we are seeing twice as many applications pending compared to the same point in FY 2022."
"U.S. citizens are returning to international travel and connecting with the world in droves. More Americans have passports than at any time in our history – 46 percent today versus 30 percent in 2008. We anticipate that this increased demand for passports will continue."
How many passport applications does the Department of State receive each day? How many applications are currently in backlog?
"We are receiving approximately 400,000 applications each week, following higher-than-normal volumes in January through May 2023 that exceeded 500,000 applications a week."
"We expect to receive nearly two million more applications this fiscal year than in our previous record-setting year in terms of applications (FY 2017)."
"However, given the fluctuations, we are unable to provide an overall backlog number."
How many staff members are currently handling passport renewals? What is the Department actively doing to minimize these delays?
"We are unable to comment on staffing numbers. However, we are focused on hiring, training, and retaining staff to address the current surge in demand. We have increased staffing levels and have hundreds of additional staff in the hiring pipeline."
"Our staff is working tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month. In fact, from January through June, we authorized 30,000 – 40,000 overtime hours each month."
"We also have volunteers from across the Department of State working on surge teams, including retirees and new hires adjudicating passports before reporting to other assignments."
There seem to be more delays associated with passport renewals for children and teens. Why would it take longer to process these applications versus applications for adults?
"Our current processing times are 10-13 weeks for routine processing and 7-9 weeks for expedited processing. These service standards apply for all passport renewals for all U.S. citizens in the United States regardless of age. Processing times can take longer when we require more information from applicants or if there are errors with the submitted applications/documents. When this happens, applicants are notified by mail and/or email about what we need to continue processing their application. The most frequent issue we see with applications for minors under 16 years old is related to our requirement for both parents to give consent for the issuance of a passport."
"If an individual has travel within 14 days, they should call the National Passport Information Center to check appointment availability. While we have increased capacity for urgent travel services – including on some weekends – appointments are still limited, and we cannot guarantee that one will be available."
Individuals who have a pending application and:
• Travel in 5 days or less should check appointment availability by calling 1-877-487-2778
• Travel in 6-14 days should call 1-877-487-2778 and we will notify the passport agency/center that is processing the application of the date of travel and request that the passport be processed in time. In some cases, this will also require the customer to pay $60 upgrade to expedited service.
• Travel in more than 14 days should not call unless they applied in person or renewed by mail and need to update their mailing address, upgrade to expedited service, or request 1-2 day delivery service.

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