Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Passport Process Nightmare - Part 1

Put this one in the "Counting Chickens Before They Hatch" column.

About two weeks ago, I posted how easy it was for my father to get additional pages added to his passport (see: "Extra Passport Pages" from Aug 6, 2013). In case you're not a fan of clicking random links while you're at work, here's a summary recap:
  • July 15 - My father mailed out his passport with the DS-4085 form and the check for the fees. 
  • July 18 - The US Postal Service notified him that the package was delivered. 
  • July 19 - The check was cashed by the Department of State.
  • August 1 - My father saw good prices for flights to Israel and booked a trip for Sept 3.
  • August 6 - They emailed him a status update. The passport was in the mail scheduled for Aug 10.
Well, Saturday August 10th came and went....No passport.

Perhaps, it will come the next business day (Monday, August 12)....Nope.

Well, now this was getting a bit worrisome. The US Postal Service tracker number that was provided wasn't any help at all. It only said that the label was created on August 2nd. This is an example of how it looked on August 12th.

Upon further inspection (and a few calls to the US Postal Service), the local Post Office said they would have scanned it upon accepting the package on August 2nd. If, for some crazy reason, they accepted it without scanning, someone else in the chain would have scanned it as it made its way  from Columbia, SC to New York, NY - either at the next collection hub or a sorting facility along the way. This is how it should have looked.

The fact that there was no scan history at all after August 2nd should have alerted my father that something was wrong. But too often, my father had ordered things online (via points/miles earning shopping portals) that didn't show any online shipping progress only to see everything updated on the same day he received the package. So he just waited faithfully (1st mistake).

Round 1
He called the National Passport Agency at 877-487-2778, and while they couldn't connect him to the South Carolina Passport Agency that processed his passport, they suggested he just submit a DS-86 "Statement of Non-Receipt" form to them which would cancel the current passport and re-issue him a new one. Sounds simple enough.

But my father didn't love this idea, because he thought there was a slim chance the actual passport would show up late and didn't want it cancelled. After all, he just received Global Entry access on that passport and didn't want to have to re-do the application for a new passport number. [UPDATE: For Global Entry, a new passport # can be updated online in about 10 seconds.]

So he waited another day before taking action. (2nd mistake).

But then Tuesday came and went, and now it was now obvious that there was a problem. The US Post Office claimed they never even received the package from the Passport Agency. By now, it was Wednesday August 14th and we had our trip to Israel coming up on September 3rd - less than 3 weeks away!!!

Luckily, he had a lot of free time to focus on fixing this issue. Wednesday (August 14) morning, he filled out just the DS-86 form and mailed it in (3rd mistake). The US post office was charging $25 to send the envelope "Express" to arrive by Friday August 16. He opted for regular certified mail for just $3.56 which would get there Friday or Saturday, but more likely Saturday (August 17).

Now nothing to do but wait, right?

Round 2
Being super anal Out of general curiosity, my father again called the US Passport Hotline when he returned home later that afternoon. Constantly double and triple checking things makes my father feel better in these situations. But he sure was lucky that he did!

The first representative he got was very unhelpful. They say it's hard to extrapolate too much from a voice on the phone, but it was very easy to assume that the representative was a complete... not highly educated. He kept telling my father that the package was sent out on August 2nd and that it was just late.

He hung up and called back (1st smart thing my father did).

The second representative was more helpful. She recognized that the tracking number was for a shipping label being printed, not an actual package being delivered. My father thought that since the Post Office never received the package, there was a chance the passport was still at the Agency somewhere. Perhaps if he could just speak with someone to confirm that, we could shortcut this process.

Fortunately, the representative agreed and sent an "Urgent Email" to the South Carolina Passport Agency that processed his passport with a request that someone there call my father back. She also strongly suggested that he take down the name and number of the person who called him back. She really seemed to want to help my father. In fact, she put a note that he needed his passport back by August 21st to make sure people took urgent action.

While we weren't leaving for Israel until Wednesday September 3rd, we were leaving for Colorado on Thursday August 22nd and returning Saturday August 31st. The next day (September 1st) was a Sunday, and September 2nd was Labor Day. So if the passport didn't arrive by Wednesday August 21st, he wouldn't even be home to see if his passport arrived until the 31st, just 2 non-business days before our Israel flight.

Luckily within an hour (by about 12:30PM), someone did call him back. After my father explained the situation and his theories on what may have happened, the SC customer service agent said there was a chance that the missing passport was misplaced somewhere in their offices and that she would ask her supervisor when they returned from lunch.

However, she also informed my father that he needed to have sent (a) 2 new passport photos and (b) a copy of his upcoming international travel plans along with his DS-86 form. The National representative never mentioned anything about including photos, but DUH! Of course they'd need photos! So now, the submitted DS-86 form in the mail (Phase 1) was useless. Thank goodness he didn't spend $25 to send it Express.

She then gave my father a few options.
  1. Fill out a new DS-86 form (and include passport photos). Then send the package via FedEx/UPS overnight to the SC Agency for them to start on a replacement passport and have it mailed back. 
  2. Call the National hotline and schedule an emergency appointment at the NYC Passport Agency to request a replacement on site.
My father, now armed with a strong distaste for the mailing process, elected for Option #2. However, my father still held out hope that his missing passport was somewhere in their office. The SC agent said she would call him back when people returned from lunch, but my father took down her name and number anyway.

Now nothing to do but wait, right?

Round 3
Immediately after hanging up with the SC agent, he called the National Hotline again (877-487-2778) to schedule an appointment at the Manhattan location through the automated system. First available appointment date: August 27th.

So my father hung up and called back but this time got a live representative on the phone. He explained that his travel plans were complicated (Denver trip immediately prior to his international trip) and that he needed an earlier appointment. This new agent told my father there was availability for emergency appointments on Wednesday August 21st, but only for those people traveling within 2 weeks.

"My trip is for September 3rd. That's less than 2 weeks before August 21st."

"Yes, but for me to schedule your appointment now, your travel needs to be less than 2 weeks from today, which would mean by August 29th."

"Well, I'm actually traveling to Denver next week and leaving for Israel from there." (slight fib)

"I'm sorry, but the international flight needs to be within 2 weeks."

By now my father was getting really frustrated, but sometimes that leads to clever ideas. He remembered that (a) flights could be cancelled within 24 hours of booking for 100% refund and (b) he had a big stash of British Airway Avios miles that he could use to book short haul flights using just 4,500 miles.

"OK, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to book a flight to Canada  for next week right now while we're on the phone... There. Done. Now I have international travel in 1 week. My flight confirmation number is [redacted] and I'm flying from New York to Montreal at 8AM on August 21st. Can you schedule my appointment now?"

"Um...uh...OK. Let me transfer you to the appointment scheduler."

After getting transferred to the next representative, my father had an appointment for Wednesday August 21st at 1PM in the Manhattan Passport Agency. Of course, this would be too late to make his 8AM flight to Montreal, but that'd be OK.

"So you will need to bring with you a form DS-11..."

"Wait a minute, I'm not applying for a new passport. Don't I just need the DS-86 for a replacement for my non-receipt passport?"

"If that's what the agent told you, sir."

But then my father anally proactively asked, "So at the NYC agency, they'll be able to issue me a replacement passport without charging me right? After all, my passport went missing on your end. Or am I going to have to apply for an entirely new passport and pay the full fee? Also, will they issue me the passport right there or will they mail it back to me?"

"They will determine that at your appointment, sir."

This frustrating conversation went on like this for a few more minutes. My father kept asking clarifying questions, and the National Passport agent refused to confirm anything that the NYC Agency would or would not do. Everything was, "If that's what the other agent told you, sir."

Skeptical but satisfied, my father just re-confirmed the appointment and hung up. He scored an emergency appointment using some clever miles/point tricks. He was pretty proud of himself.

Now nothing to do but wait, right?



  1. What a nightmare. Of course, I read this because I'm undergoing my own version. Wish me luck :-(

    1. I would advise you to do everything you can and don't take no for an answer. They have little incentive to prioritize you, so you just need to find someone who will do you a favor.

  2. Thank you! I definitely will.

  3. http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/off-topic/1314554/

    (Update: My lap child's passport showed up 9 days after it was fake-delivered.)

  4. @Anonymous - Sorry to hear you had a horrible experience as well too. Thanks for the advice!