Supply and demand misaligned again, thanks to the Usual Suspect of America:
Overwhelmed by a record demand for passports, the State Department said it was running weeks behind in issuing the vital documents, panicking thousands of peak-season travelers.
Passport agency employees have been ordered to work overtime, including nights and weekends, and 49 new employees were hired in March. Even so, the backlog is so high that it will probably take 10 weeks — instead of the usual four to six — to get a passport.
"These are extraordinary circumstances," said Derwood Staeben of the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. "We are seeing record demand for passports and we are issuing them in record numbers ... It's obvious from the results that we didn't quite anticipate the spike that we're seeing right now."
Susan Fogwell, a United Airlines flight attendant from Princeton, N.J., said she called for three days trying to get an appointment recently in Philadelphia, her nearest regional center, to renew her passport. When Fogwell showed up for her appointment, a line stretched around the block.
"It looked like a Rolling Stones concert 25 years ago," Fogwell said. "People have to be forewarned. If they think they're flitting off to Paris in two weeks, it's going to be a nightmare."
March is always the busiest month for passports as travelers firm up spring and summer trips. But this year, the paper chase has been complicated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which took effect Jan. 23.
Passports are now required when flying to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. But some travelers may be confused about the law, Staeben said, and may not realize that people traveling to those places by land or sea will not need a passport until 2008.