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Stressful Travel Day & How to Get a Same Day Passport
It’s a story as old as America itself. A loving family sets out on a long and perilous trek to find the lost city of Atlantis only to discover that one of the family’s passports is expired! What to do!
Ok, perhaps not many people run into that exact situation, but many people do need last minute passports for various reasons. Sometimes a baby is born and they forgot to get a passport before the big trip, sometimes people forget about when their passport expires and other times they need a passport for a last minute emergency trip.
A couple of weeks ago my wife, daughter and I flew from Las Vegas to Fort Lauderdale where we stayed for the night before our supposed quick flight down to Nassau. Our tickets to FLL and NAS were booked separately which meant I didn’t need to use her passport to check in for the first flight.
For some reason as we sat eating dinner in Fort Lauderdale I turned to my wife and said, “Your passport expires soon doesn’t it?” To which she said, “I don’t know.” I suddenly got a bad feeling in my stomach and went to check. The news was bad. “Your passport expired 10 days ago!” I said.
Springing Into Action
After getting mad at both my wife and myself for not knowing (and mostly blaming myself considering my profession), I used my experience and went into action.
Step by step here is what I did before going to bed:
- Went online and located the nearest Passport Agency. In our case it was in Miami. You need an appointment and I was able to use their online system to set one for 10am the next morning.
- Filled out a complete Passport Renewal Application. I triple checked it for accuracy and then went downstairs and had the front desk print it. I also printed out proof of our hotel reservation in Atlantis and our flight to Nassau since proof of immediate travel is required for a same day passport.
- Downloaded the Passport Booth app on my iPhone and took a passport photo of my wife. I then saved the photo from the app and ordered a 4 X 6 print at the closest Walgreens for pickup the next morning. I prefer to pay $.23 for a print compared to $15 to have someone take the photo.
- Called JetBlue and advised them of our situation. Our flight was at 9am and there was no way we would make it. They notated our situation in their system and told us to call back when we knew more.
- Finally I went online and booked a car from Fort Lauderdale airport for the next day. Thankfully I was able to get a decent rate at the last minute.
With all of these things done, I went to bed feeling somewhat decent about how things COULD go the next day.
Getting the Passport
The next morning I woke up and took the hotel shuttle to the airport to rent the car. I then circled back and picked up my wife and daughter and headed to Walgreens to pickup the photo before going to the Passport Agency in Downtown Miami. The agency’s posted hours are 8am-3pm, but we discovered upon arrival at 9:30am that they don’t actually start taking people in until after 10am. Island time!
The Passport Agency in Miami has a bit of a strange setup. You check-in on the ground floor in the parking garage and wait there until they are ready to send you up. This area isn’t air conditioned and can get hot. After getting sent up, you wait in another line to show your paperwork to the clerk. They will then give you a number sort of similar to how a DMV often works.
For us the majority of waiting took place downstairs. Once we were in the office, my wife had her number and was called by about 11:30am. Since she had her old passport, no additional identification was needed. She was told by the agent her passport would be ready by 3pm. She then asked if it was alright to change our flight to 5:20pm and was told yes.
We felt good at this point and headed out to lunch. I quickly found a Cuban diner on Yelp that looked good and my wife called JetBlue to change the flight. The first agent she spoke with was a bit rude and told her there was no way to change to a later flight. I told her to call back and thankfully the second time she found someone who was nicer and who was able to confirm us at 5:20pm.
Battling the Clock
As I mentioned earlier, the passport office is supposed to close at 3pm. Since the baby was sleeping in her carseat, my wife headed up there to wait for her passport around 2pm, while I stayed in the car. We were hoping the passport would be done a bit early. It wasn’t. In fact, she didn’t get it until after 4:30pm! Worse yet the baby and I were stuck outside since they locked the doors at 3pm.
After my wife finally had her passport in hand, I opted to tweet JetBlue instead of calling. Thankfully their Twitter team agreed to get us on the 10pm flight down to Nassau without an additional fee. We would still get to the Bahamas on the same day, just 12 hours after originally planned!
Here are a few takeaways from the experience:
- It is actually quite easy to get a same day passport provided you have immediate travel and the proper documentation. Make sure all of your paperwork is in order and you have everything you need or you will be sent away. You do need to pay the normal passport fee plus the $60 expedited fee, but there is no additional fee for same day service.
- Don’t cut the time so short. We were going to book the 10pm flight in the beginning, but went for the earlier flight after being told the passport would be done by 3pm. The best strategy is to avoid getting a passport on the same day of travel if at all possible.
- The hours posted on their website may not be the actual hours. For example in Miami they only start taking people two hours after posted opening and people stick around for hours after official closing waiting for passports. It is best to stick to your appointment time and make sure you are inside by closing time since you will get locked out!
- People who came in later in the day (1 to 2pm) were able to get their passports before closing. In other words, we could have come later and still probably left at the same time.
- Of course the biggest takeaway is that this should have never happened. Since many countries require a 6 month validity on your passport, renew it 6 months before expiration to avoid this craziness!
In the end our story had a happy ending, although it was a bit stressful. Either way I am glad to know a system is in place to help those who need to obtain a passport at the last minute. And judging from the number of other people who were at this office, I think many other people are too!
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