Renewing a passport: The process ends 16 days later

When today’s mail arrived this afternoon there was a priority mail envelope with my new passport inside. I sent the application in on January 31, the last day for the $67 cost. I did pay for priority postage to get the passport application to the office a bit faster.

Along with the application and my old passport, I enclosed a letter asking for my old passport back. It did not come back so I’ll call and ask about that on Tuesday. Monday is a national holiday. Perhaps its gone for good which certainly makes me feel a bit sad. It was the best souvenir I had of my journeys over 10 years worth of travel. There are disjointed photo albums that I haven’t quite attended to properly. The passport had records of dates and countries. All those officials. All those borders. All that work getting from place to place. The excitement of getting on a plane for a new destination–and at the other side, the process of milling in a customs line at odd hours of the night, or early in the morning waiting to be ushered into a new country.

Now, I have this new passport with its smooth feeling cover–fresh with no personality. There’s nothing about this new passport that says I’m a traveler. Don’t get my wrong. I’m happy to have it since I am going on another trip in a month, this time to Mexico. Never mind that I don’t need this passport really for getting across the border since we’re going by car, but having it means I don’t have to rummage through papers looking for an official copy of my birth certificate or sending away for another. My old one was expired so I wanted a new one. Still, I miss that old passport.

I do have to hand it to the Passport Services Office. They turned the 4 to 6 weeks (the stated time it takes to get a new passport) into 16 days. Don’t count on this being all it takes for your renewal, but that’s what it took for mine. When I cross that border into Mexico and cross back into the U.S., I want two stamps. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Travel Lessons We Can Learn From Summer 2007

Christopher Elliott took a couple of polls and determined that travel this summer wasn’t as bad as it seemed. 54 percent of those polled even said their summer travels had been “average.” You wouldn’t think so just by reading Gadling, let alone any other travel news.

But, Elliott concedes, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few rough patches. Flight delays, horrible customer service, an overburdened passport office and high fuel prices have all but made even the most enthusiastic travelers yell “uncle.”

So, what can we learn from all these? Elliott draws some lessons:

1. Apply for your passport early.

The massive backlog at the passport office continues to worsen. Since the U.S. government began requiring air travelers to Canada or Mexico to have a passport, thousands of vacations were delayed or canceled due to delayed delivery. And in 2008 all overland travelers will need a passport, which will no doubt create an even larger stack of paperwork. “Express” service has been lengthened, and what used to take 6 weeks now can take upwards of 3 months. Mine expires in June 2008 and I’ve got to get on it. However, that passport crunch might be over….

2. Air travel is actually worse than reported.

Sure, airfares are (sorta) low and there’s a decent safety record, but who cares about that when your flight’s been canceled? Not only is this possibly the worst summer ever for air travel, but it’s shaping up to be the worst year. We’ve certainly had a lot to say about it. Like here. And here. And there’s this story. And blogger Leif is on a one-man rampage against Northwest.

3. Europe sucks.

Well, Elliott is a lot classier than I, and didn’t actually use the term “suck.” That’s all me. But if you traveled in Europe this summer, you might have had a sucky time. The dollar was at an all-time high low against the Euro (for 120 days, mind you!), luggage was lost like socks in a dryer, and Heathrow was more politely described by another blogger here at Gadling as “shabby and slow” (read: sucky). However, I have a hard time imagining that Europe wouldn’t be worth all the hassle. Even with the Eurotrash.

4. Mind the gap.

It’s as if Hurricane Katrina didn’t teach us one thing about aging infrastructure. After Minneapolis’s I35W bridge collapsed, we all paid more attention to the state of bridges and highways in the U.S. But will that save lives? The Transportation Department recorded an all-time low in traffic fatalities in 2006, and 2007 is following suit. Let’s hope the bridges continue to hold out.

5. TSA really sucks.

Again, we’ve had nothing but awful news to report here on the state of airport security. From laughable errors to scary incompetence, airport security has gotten a lot of flack this summer. And it’ll probably get more; according to Elliott, the new “Secure Flight” initiative threatens to take even more of our civil liberties away, even though it claims to protect travelers’ privacy. At least there are products out there to help us have fun with TSA.

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6. High fuel prices won’t stop us from taking our hard-earned vacations.

8 in 10 travelers complained about gas prices, but in general more people were taking road trips (perhaps because their flights were canceled? Just a thought). I know high fuel prices didn’t keep me from driving the 2500 miles from Seattle to Seward — but the prices also gave me something to complain about all the way through Canada. But mercifully, gas prices dropped a bit in June.

7. If your airline blames the weather, they’re probably lying.

How many times can you use the same excuse? Can’t the weather be filed away under “ancient clichés” with dog-eaten homework and it’s-not-you-it’s-me excuses?

It’s nearly impossible to disprove a weather excuse, and by blaming an “act of God,” the airlines get out of taking responsibility for a delayed or canceled flight. I predict more bad weather on the horizon for air travel.