Passport problems keep travelers at home

U.S. passport

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The State Department has decided to offer at least a partial refund to some of those who've been caught up in passport pandemonium. If you paid an extra 60 bucks to get expedited service, but still got your passport late, you can apply by mail for your money back.

The whole mess is because of those new rules that were supposed to go into effect last week. That everybody who travels abroad would need a passport — even for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The State Department has relaxed those rules while it digs out from under a mountain of passport applications. But the trouble is, the temporary fix isn't working for everybody. And in the process, a lot of people are losing a lot of money. Here's Marketplace's Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: You can still be bumped from your flight, even if do just what the State Department's been saying. If you're traveling to or from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean . . .

Web announcement: U.S. citizens must have a government-issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport.

What that official Web site presentation doesn't say is foreign countries have their own entry rules. Mexico requires a birth certificate if you don't have a passport. That's proving to be a catch-22 if you've sent off your birth certificate along with your passport application.

Several airlines have stopped some ticket-holders from boarding this week. Delta didn't return our call, but a spokesman told the L.A. Times the bumping was done "to protect the passengers."

David Field, U.S. editor of Airline Business magazine, says the carriers are also protecting themselves.

David Field: If the airline carries a person to a foreign country, and the foreign country refuses to admit them, the airline has to carry the person back at its own expense. So they've been burned by that before.

Field says the industry's fine print makes the traveler responsible for all proper documentation, even if you've tried but failed to get a passport in time.

The State Department also concedes some passport applicants aren't showing up in its computer system. They got bumped because they couldn't print out the proof required under the new rules.

If all else fails, Field suggests, try groveling — for a voucher, or, if you're lucky, a refund.

Field: Rather than arguing or screaming at the airline person, try to be nice and maybe they'll show you some sympathy.

Indeed, that may be your only recourse.

In Los Angeles, I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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