Martin and I planned a romantic get-a-way to Jamaica for our ten year anniversary. Yes, we are taking the boys on our anniversary trip, but Martin found an all-inclusive resort that also includes a Nanny for the kids from check-in to check-out. Surely, we'll be able to enjoy some nice one-on-one time while the nanny entertains the boys. In case you are interested, here is the link: http://www.fdrholidays.com/fdr/frank_resort.html
Thank goodness we applied for our passports three months ago, before we even decided about adopting and knew all the documents would have to list our passport numbers. (Our home study package requires copies of our passports too.) In case you haven't heard, it takes forever to get them now. In fact, we were supposed to have left early this morning. We had to postpone the trip for week. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:00 a.m. on Friday and 5 of our 6 of our passports didn't arrive at our house until 8:30 a.m. (Our oldest son's passport is still "in process".) We even had our Congressman's office working on it for us, but it has been a crazy ordeal.
Then, the government announces this morning (after our flight left without us of course) that they will temporarily allow travel flexibility to the Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. All you have to do now is show proof that you applied for one. Ugh! Well, the good news is that even if Preston's passport doesn't come in this week, we can still go without having to worry about how we are going to smuggle our 9 year old through the U.S. Customs office in the Atlanta Airport. If only we had had a crystal ball before changing all our flights, paying a $100 fee to move our resort reservations, rescheduling our home study interviews, and various other appointments that had to be changed.
The passport offices are out-of-control swamped these days with literally millions of people applying for passports in compliance with new Homeland Security regulations. But as frustrating as the last few weeks have been, I must commend the government for trying to come up with some sort of solution for all the passportless travelers like us. Here is our experience:
We filed the applications in early March. Martin and I are just renewals because the passports we got to travel for our honeymoon had just expired this month -- remember this is our "ten year" anniversary. We also needed passports for the boys. Side note: I kinda feel sorry for my youngest son if/when he needs to use his passport in the future. He may be 13, but his photo will have the face of a 3 year old. But it's such a cute face! :0)
Anyway, at the time we applied, we were told the processing would take 8-10 weeks. We had 13 weeks before our trip so we opted not to pay the extra $600 to expedite them. After the 10th week, we began to get a little concerned. Martin checked the website and found out that you can only contact them IF and WHEN your travel date was within two weeks. He marked the calendar and we began calling, e-mailing and checking the website daily. The steps went like this:
- We were told if you e-mail the passport office, it will take them three days to reply. It turned out to be four days and, then, the e-mail response gave no information whatsoever. That was a wasted effort.
- If you call the passport office, the first 40 or so times you dial the number, a recording will say they are too busy to take your call and it will automatically hang-up on you. However, if you are persistent enough to keep dialing, you will eventually be put in a cue where you can expect to wait on hold for approximately 45 minutes.
- Once someone actually answers the phone, you have to give them all the information you have gleaned from the passport website. Then, they will tell you that your passports are "in progress" and they can't tell you when they will be ready. At least 1/3 of the time, they will tell you the computer system is down and they have no information for you and cannot assist you in any way. This is not what you want to hear after being on the phone waiting to speak with them for over an hour. One call center agent, told Martin that he make sure our passports were placed in the "expedited" stack for no extra charge. I'm not so sure that happened.
- It turns out that for the region in which we live, the office processing applications is in New Orleans and the call center is in New Hampshire. The agents in New Hampshire can't call you back with information because their phones will not dial out. They won't give the direct phone number for the New Orleans office because they don't have public phone lines. Go figure!
- The website still only shows us as "In Process", but we were informed either on the website, the on-hold message, or by an agent (it is all running together by this point) that if you go to the New Orleans office in person they will give you your passport that day. Now, it gets good. You MUST have an appointment. They ONLY give out appointments three days in advance of your travel date (it's listed on your passport application so you can't just make up a date. Believe me, I thought about it.)
- Martin calls on Monday night to get an appointment. We figured that since our flights were so early on Friday that it wouldn't count as a day. However, they refused to make an appointment for him because it wasn't within the "three days" yet. So he called back on Tuesday and was told that they only schedule appointments on Mon., Wed, and Friday. But here is the real kicker: you had to be physically in the office by 11:00 a.m. at which point they closed the doors to the public. The earliest flights from Nashville to New Orleans arrive at 11:45 a.m. There would be no way to get to the office in time, so Martin would have to have left that afternoon, spent the night in New Orleans, taken a taxi to the office in the morning in hope that they would process all six of our family's applications while he was there. We thought that chances of that happening were pretty slim, so we set a deadline of 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday. If they hadn't arrived by then we would just have to start rescheduling our entire trip. I must say, at least it felt good to be (somewhat) in control again.
I guess all's well that ends well. At least we have 5 out of 6 of the passports we need and the government has decided to allow us to travel on vacation without the 6th one. We're just going to have to cross our fingers, hope, pray, think good thoughts, and probably make a few more phone calls, to make sure that Preston gets his passport in time to travel to Russia with us next summer! We'd appreciate your prayers too!