SEATTLE - It’s a difficult time for travelers for a variety of reasons, with airline schedules in flux and sky-high gas prices—but if you’re in need of a passport, the challenges are even greater.
On Tuesday, a noticeable crowd formed outside of Seattle’s passport office. Some had been waiting since before the doors opened at 8 a.m. in hopes of getting an appointment. Others were waiting despite appointment times that had already come and gone.
"I’m not missing my appointment," said Greg Cook, who arrived roughly 30 minutes before his 1 p.m. appointment. "My appointment seems to be missing me."
Cook is in a tough spot. He flew into Seattle a day before July 4 so he could get an emergency passport. He was flying to Mexico with his dog, when he lost his passport. His dog was traveling ahead of him, but when he lost his passport he couldn’t meet up. He’s desperate to make it back across the border to see his dog.
"I spent last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday calling," explained Cook. "Finally around 2 p.m. in the afternoon I was able to get the appointment here – I was in Chicago, the only place I could get the appointment was in Seattle."
That line he’s referring to is for emergency passport situations. Usually, you can request an appointment 2 weeks out. However, if someone cancels, you can potentially pick up the appointment. That’s why Cook spent days calling what he estimates was more than 200 times.
He and others described that sometimes you’ll find an appointment, but by the time you get through the questions associated with it, the spot will be snatched up by someone on another line.
A worker at the Seattle office told one patron: "Over 200,000 people are calling that number every day. That’s the reality. You have to keep calling, they’re two hours ahead of us, so 6 o’clock in the morning is the best time to call."
"Inefficient, understaffed and, I’d say, not very empathetic for people that need emergency passports," Cook described.
The worker, wearing a lanyard identifying him as a public affairs officer, told FOX 13 News that there’s no holdup, it’s simply an issue of volume and a small waiting room inside. He insisted there was no holdup.
Inquiries sent to the State Department in D.C. haven’t been responded to—as the man noted to the people in line, they work on East Coast timeframes. So, it remains unclear whether the issues in Seattle are happening at other offices across the country, or if they are a one-time or long-term issue.
Jeff Perkins, who drove up from Portland, said he’d waited most of the day for a walk-in appointment. He spent several hours waiting in line before they ultimately told everyone that they wouldn’t be able to see anyone that day.
Perkins was supposed to fly to Munich for job training early Tuesday morning. His passport is valid, but it expires soon. A rule that had been in place that would have allowed him to travel was in place, due to the long backlog of passports being processed around the country, but that rule expired July 1.
"So, I’m rescheduling my flight for an appointment you might not be able to get," he said.
Currently, the State Department notes on its website that a standard wait time for a passport has dropped from 18 weeks to 8-11 weeks. If you pay extra for an expedited passport you can cut the wait time to 5-7 weeks, however, for people like Cook and Perkins, the opportunity to get an emergency passport means traveling long distances to an office with an opening, or potentially flying.
Perkins said an operator suggested he fly day-of to Detroit. That wasn’t an option for him, so he plans to arrive early Wednesday morning 1-2 hours before the doors open for a second try, with or without an appointment.