In May, Paula Knight, 33, was gearing up for a family trip to Mallorca when she realized she, her husband and her 11-year-old daughter would all need to renew their passports before traveling in early July. And her son, who is 8 months old, didn’t have one at all.
She first reached out to a private passport expediter in her hometown, Austin, Texas, but after paying them more than $500 in hopes of getting the passports within a few days, she was surprised to be told that they expected the process to take five to seven weeks, and she’d have to deliver the paperwork to a passport office herself.
But all of the local passport offices require an appointment and were booked solid for months. The closest passport office that took walk-in appointments was two hours away, in Lampasas, Texas, and she made the drive there twice to get her family’s documents processed and sent off to the State Department.
A month later, she realized she might not get the documents in time. So Ms. Knight began calling the National Passport Center’s appointment line every morning, where hold times can stretch past the 15-minute mark, in hopes of securing a same-day appointment at a U.S. Passport Agency. For a week, she called, waited on hold, and each time was told the only available appointments in the entire country were in Hawaii.
“We have a government passport agency in Houston, which would be a two-hour drive for me. We have one in Dallas, which would be a five-hour drive, and I could do that, too,” she said. “But there’s nothing available. I’m feeling pretty powerless over it all. We’re doing everything we were told to do, and it’s taken since early May.”
Ms. Knight finally secured an appointment in El Paso, which is 11 hours away by car. She pushed her family’s trip back four days to accommodate the appointment and, opting not to drive such a long distance with a baby, spent $800 on a hotel and $1,600 on airfare for herself, her husband and her two children to make it to the appointment before her departure to Spain. In early July, with just days to spare, the family’s passports arrived by mail and they ended up not requiring the same-day appointment after all. (They received credit for the canceled flight, and a refund on the hotel room.)