When Richard Pelletier applied to renew his passport this summer, he did not expect that he might not get it in time to attend his only daughter’s wedding in London this fall.
The South Whidbey resident initiated the renewal process in early July. At the time, he was not aware of the pent-up demand for the crucial travel documents, nor the massive delay in mailing times.
Currently, a passport that is not expedited takes an average of 16 weeks. If expedited, that processing time is 12 weeks.
Partway through the process, Pelletier requested for his passport be expedited. But hearing nothing back about its status, he worried that he might have to miss the wedding.
COVID-related office closures and a shortage of employees have become a problem across the nation that has added to the wait time. Bob Herzberg, the passport agent for Langley City Hall, said he has heard that applications are being processed with approximately 50% of the workforce.
Pre-pandemic, the longest someone had to wait for a passport was four to six weeks. If expedited, it would take two to three weeks.
“It’s just a shocking situation,” Herzberg said.
At one point, due to mail delays, he said that a batch of expedited passports bound for Langley sat in Philadelphia, undelivered, for nine days.
Last fall, he noticed that an influx of passport seekers from the mainland were booking appointments in Langley. That demand increased even more this spring, as he saw more and more people planning their summer vacations abroad.
According to Herzberg, about half of the passport offices in Snohomish County have not been open since before the pandemic started.
The Village by the Sea is also being seen as a desirable place to visit while getting those travel documents settled. Herzberg said he often hears of people who cross Puget Sound to visit their elderly relatives in Langley, or simply just to visit the picturesque seaside town and local businesses.
There is a paucity of appointments at Langley’s passport office, since appointments can only be scheduled on Thursdays.
“With Langley, we set up to serve South Whidbey and we’re open one day a week and it was working just fine,” Herzberg said.
There are currently no appointment openings until mid-November. Herzberg is advising people to head north to one of Oak Harbor’s two passport office locations, where more appointments are available.
Liz Lange, Senior Services administrator for the center in Oak Harbor, said the senior center’s passport office saw a boom in appointments this year. May was the the busiest month, with 184 passports accepted at the location.
“I definitely think it was an interesting phenomenon to see when the travel restrictions were lifted for COVID,” she said.
Demand seems to be tapering off this month, however. Lange said that a month ago, appointments were booked two to four weeks out in advance. That is no longer the case, and people can usually score an appointment within a week. Appointments can be made Tuesday through Friday.
Still, Herzberg cautioned against putting things off until the last minute. The travel.state.gov website is recommending that people apply at least four to six months before any travel plans take place.
“You’ve got to put your dreams on hold if you don’t have a passport or if your passport’s expired,” Herzberg said.
As for Pelletier, his story is likely one that will be told to the other out-of-town guests at his daughter’s wedding. Earlier this week, he received word that the documents for his passport renewal would be ready in time for the main event.
Had he been aware that the wait time was so lengthy for passports, he said he would have started the process a lot sooner.
“I have to admit that the applications sat on our dining room table for several days,” he said.