Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Passport Process Nightmare - Part 2

As I started talking about yesterday, my father's experience getting his additional passport pages was (as you can tell from the title) quite horrible. It all started on July 15th when he sent his current passport to the US Department of State.

After about 3 weeks of processing, the South Carolina Passport Agency sent his passport back using regular US mail on August 2nd, but it went missing. The Post Office claims they never received it from the sender.

It was now August 14th and on September 3rd, my parents and I were scheduled to fly to Israel to visit my grandparents. As you may know, Israeli security isn't too keen on letting people into their country without proper identification.

Normally, that'd be enough time, but the week before, we were going to be in Colorado (August 22nd through August 31st), so we really wanted to make sure my father had his passport before we left for Denver this Thursday.

After 3 rounds of playing US passport bureaucracy games, my father seemed to be on his way to a brand new passport after cleverly scheduling an elusive NYC Agency emergency appointment for Wednesday August 21st.

Round 4
It was still Wednesday August 14th and he had his appointment in 1 week where he'd explain how they lost his passport and he should be issued a new one for free. But the tone of the apathetic National agent kept eating at him all afternoon. Something just didn't feel right, so he called his new South Carolina friend to see if the passport was found at her office. Unfortunately, it was after 5PM, and she had left for the day. So he left a message.

At 7:30AM Thursday morning, the SC agent called my father back and confirmed his missing passport was not in their offices and most likely lost in transit to the post office. He was still very disoriented having been sound asleep, but he managed to ask her if the NYC Passport Agency would process his replacement as she suggested and if she could provide him with any sort of official confirmation / authorization to show the NYC Agency that the SC office specifically instructed him to proceed that way.

She put him on hold while she spoke with her supervisor. When she returned, she confirmed, "Yes, there's a chance they will charge you for an entirely new passport application. I can't be certain with how they'll treat your application."

By now, it was Thursday August 15, and my father was starting to get very nervous. He decided to go back to Option #1 and re-send a new DS-86 form with passport photos and overnight it via FedEx for Friday morning delivery. The SC agent assured him that she would be looking out for it and have it returned via UPS Overnight to ensure a Saturday delivery.

So by 8:30AM Thursday morning, the new DS-86 package was dropped off at my father's local FedEx facility sent to the following given address:

Replacement Supervisor 233
Charleston Passport Center
1269 Holland Street - Building D
URGENT Passport Locator #xxxx301
Charleston, SC 29405

The package was then on it's way scheduled for 10:30AM Friday delivery and had a real FedEx tracking number.

Now, nothing to do but wait, right?

Round 5
After constantly refreshing the FedEx Package Tracker website over and over again Friday morning, it was close to 9:30AM and the Tracker still had the last scan being "Departed FedEx location Memphis, TN" at 4:07AM. I'm not a logistics expert, but tough to see how the package would get to the Charleston, SC Passport Agency by 10:30AM if it didn't get to Charleston yet by 9:30AM.

So my father contacted FedEx to see what the status was. He was given the option to chat with an online representative, Brandy.

You have been connected to Brandy.
Brandy : Hi. I am researching your question now...
Dad: Good morning
Brandy : Can you please verify your delivery address?
Dad: Charleston Passport Center 1269 Holland Street Building D Charleston, SC 29405
Dad: it's an urgent passport document that they need to provide my passport within 24 hours
Brandy : I apologize for the inconvenience, your package has been delayed due to fog at the airport. This FedEx express service is running hour behind.
Brandy : hours
Dad: can you confirm how many hours behind?
Dad: its CRITICAL that it be delivered today
Dad: with enough time for them to process my passport before i fly out
Brandy : Yes, I am sorry, it is 2 hours.
Dad: so by 12:30PM eastern it should be delivered?
Brandy : Yes, It will be delivered today.
Dad: what recourse with FedEx do i have that it's delayed?
Dad: my expectation was that it would be delivered by 10:30
Dad: they need time to accept the package and then process before close of business today. I'm not sure how long it takes them
Brandy: One moment while I research...
Brandy: I am sorry about the delay due to fog. The package will be delivered today. You can all 1-800-463-3339 and ask to speak with a station manager after sorting. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

My father then called the SC agent to give her an update that she should expect the package at 12:30PM. She thanked him for giving her an update as she was also checking the FedEx tracker site and didn't see any updates.

My father then called FedEx and spoke with an actual native English speaking American on the phone. This FedEx representative was less optimistic than the online chat representative. She wouldn't confirm a 12:30PM delivery or even that the package would be delivered that day. Despite my father's protests and complaints, she didn't seem wiling or able to help in this situation.

As expected, 12:30PM came and went. The latest update on the FedEx Tracker was that the package arrived at the local Charleston FedEx facility at 11:57AM and then put on a delivery truck at 12:22PM. But it was unclear when the package would reach the destination. If it was end of day, then it wouldn't be enough time for them to process the package and have it mailed by the last 7PM pickup.

But at 2:06PM, the FedEx tracker said it was delivered and signed for! Immediately, my father called the SC agent and told her the package had arrived. Unfortunately, she said she didn't get it yet and that it was probably accepted at a different facility.

It was unclear when it would make its way to her desk for processing and she was finishing her shift soon. She assured him that she would leave detailed instructions and notes for the person on the afternoon shift that would relieve her and hopefully get the package out by 7PM. After a roller coaster of ups and downs, my father's heart fell to the floor yet again.

But at 2:30PM, she called my father back and said she now had the package and was starting right away. She said she would do everything she could, but that if her shift ended, that my father would be in good hands with the next person. She even gave my father the name and direct phone number of the second agent.

Now, nothing to do but wait, right?

Round 6
After waiting a few hours, it was 5PM and didn't hear from anyone. So my father decided to be annoying proactive and call the second shift person. But unfortunately, it went to her voicemail, so my father left a message. No call back that evening, so my father could only hope that the passport was processed and given to UPS for overnight delivery.

Saturday morning, no package delivery.

Saturday afternoon, no package delivery.

Sunday was a day of rest, so when Monday (August 19) rolled around, my father called his favorite SC Passport agent again. She confirmed that the package was not sent out Friday night and that the second agent she told me about didn't come in Friday. She said it was processed by someone else and was going out that night (Monday) for Tuesday delivery. Then when she looked in the system to confirm status, she said "I can't believe it..."

Apparently, the 2nd shift crew finished processing my father's passport, but didn't follow the instructions. Instead of having it sent via UPS Overnight, they sent it regular US Priority Mail (3-5 business days). Instead of receiving it Tuesday morning, it would hopefully arrive by Thursday or Friday (after my parents and I will have left for Colorado). Since it hadn't gone out yet, she said she would try to look for it in case she could intercept it before it left. But unfortunately, no such luck.

My father, refusing to accept that fate, asked her if she could process a completely NEW passport and have it sent overnight. Unfortunately, when she asked her supervisor, they told her that she cannot work on another shift's application, so that my father would have to wait and call the second shift supervisor when they took over at 3:30PM and came out of their daily meeting. She also encouraged him to call the National hotline and request them to send an Urgent Email to the SC Passport Agency Supervisor for a call back.

Now, nothing to do but wait, right?

Round 7
After repeatedly calling every 5 minutes starting at 3:30PM, my father finally reached the second shift agent at around 4PM. Thankfully, she was expecting my call and told him of 2 options (sound really familiar?):
  1. Schedule an emergency appointment at the NYC passport agency for Tuesday to get a new (3rd) passport.
  2. Have the SC agency re-issue the new passport and have it sent UPS Overnight.
My father elected #2 since the SC Agency had the background context and history. Given all the bureaucracy he's dealt with in the past week, he didn't feel confident that his situation would be given the same amount of urgency at an entirely new agency without an on-site internal champion like his SC agent. So the second shift SC agent assured him that she would start on it right away and have it ready for the 7PM UPS deadline.

Now, nothing to do but wait, right?

Final Outcome
Well, around 7PM, my father called the second shift SC Agent and got her voicemail, suggesting perhaps she was done for the day. Though a bit frustrated at this point, my father realized there was no more he could do aside from plan to go to the NYC Passport Agency on Wednesday August 21 and take his chances.

But then the second SC agent called him back at 7:30PM. She said she was on the late shift and provided him with the UPS Next Day tracking number. And on Tuesday morning at 9:30AM, UPS finally delivered my father's passport to our apartment. Phew!!!!

And if you were wondering, yes, my father did call the National Passport Hotline to cancel his Wednesday appointment so that the slot would open up to other travelers in need.

Now, nothing to do but pack!

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