State Department Takes Online Passport Appointment System Offline For Last-Minute Bookings

When you need your passport renewed, and you have travel within 72 hours, it’s possible to get emergency expedited service. However the State Department has taken the ability to schedule this offline.

We have temporarily removed the online last-minute appointment booking system to ensure our very limited, last-minute in-person passport appointments at one of our agencies or centers go to applicants who need them for urgent travel.

Currently, the only way to schedule an appointment is to call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 (TDD/TTY 1-888-874-7793) from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The State Department did this because people are using bots to schedule these appointments and then sell them.

While passport renewal turnaround times have improved in the past few months, however even paying an expedite fee and you’re looking at about 3 months (although sometimes it’s ‘just’ 6 weeks). That means more people find themselves needing a passport on an emergency basis, and there aren’t enough appointments for those. The grey market value of an appointment is hundreds of dollars.

There’s a general sense that grabbing appointments you don’t need and selling them is ‘scummy’ but it,

  • Does at least ration appointments based on who is willing to pay, versus who spends the most time refreshing the State Department website. There’s likely a loose correlation between willingness to pay and need to travel. At a minimum it privileges limited business travel, which is good for airlines and growth of airline schedules.

  • But if there’s something scummy here, it’s primarily the inability of the U.S. government to fulfill its basic obligations. If passports are necessary to exercise the right to travel, then the government needs to offer a reasonable process to obtain one. Waiting three months paying extra is not acceptable.

  • The State Department ought to be able to handle the problem of bots, if their IT isn’t sufficient for that then it’s scary they’re handling international diplomacy in a world of nation state hacking.

  • And they should clearly have been scaling up capacity – not just now, but over the last year – to handle both regular processing and last minute appointments to meet demand.

Taking the system offline addresses the immediate symptom of bots and reselling but does little to help citizens who actually need to get passports.

(HT: P.H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. “If passports are necessary to exercise the right to travel, then the government needs to offer a reasonable process to obtain one. ”

    The article you quote mentions appointments are still available by phone, and as far as I know, walk ins are still accepted as well. Those both sound like reasonable processes.

  2. I love how you excuse the people to make bots to resell appointments by saying it’s the government that’s being scummy.

    I guess you would be ok if we did that with covid vaccines, or how about transplant organs? Good ole capitalism!

  3. @ben. If only it were so regarding walk ins. Per the Dept. of State passport website: Make An Appointment at a Passport Agency or Center
    We have two types of appointments: Life-or-Death Emergency Service and Urgent Travel Service. You cannot walk-in. We do not charge a fee to make an appointment.

  4. Poor Ben. He also misses Gary’s point: the telephone appointment system is so overwhelmed that it simply doesn’t work at all for anyone but the truly lucky. Lottery winners, in other words.

    Go ahead. Try me. Call now for an appointment and see if you get through.

  5. This whole situation reminds me of the “You Had One Job” memes we see everywhere. Of course, the State Department does have more than one job. But for the average American, the passport process has to be far and away the most important thing the State Department does. The Feds are printing and giving away money by the trillions these days – so why can’t they scale up and solve this pretty basic customer service problem? (A cynic might suggest that this backlog is a passive-aggressive way for our government to limit international travel by U.S. citizens.)

  6. A great sign I have seen in random offices: “Your problem of deciding to wait until the last minute is not my problem.”

  7. @Jorge Does waiting until the last minute now mean not renewing at least six months early? And if everyone starts renewing well in advance of overseas travel, doesn’t that make the backlog worse?

  8. Not a shock – The government, as a whole, has used COVID as a reason to slow things down and not do their job. My experience was with the IRS but similar “customer service”. I had to file an amended return for 2019 due to a Turbotax software bug that eliminated a credit. Net is I was due $4600 so I filed (had to mail to Kansas City since couldn’t do amended returns online then) in mid July. It sat in a box there (I had confirmation it was delivered) for 10 months with absolutely no update to the status. Also, the tax payer assistance line was closed down and no one was in the office (amazing how private business still was able to staff necessary offices and at least had remote call centers (if nothing else agents working from their homes)). Finally escalated to my US Senator’s office to help track it. Well I got the check last week almost exactly 1 year after I filed the return. I fully understand COVID impacted lots of things but it sure seems the civil servants are using it as yet one more excuse to not do their jobs and deliver horrible service. Of course there is no one to hold them accountable! Just glad my passport and my wife’s are good until late 2023 and my kids’ are 5+ years before needing renewal.

  9. Personally, I view the long waits and the inability to thwart bots as two symptoms of the same problem: underfunding and understaffing.

    We often push so hard for efficiency that we end up undercutting ourselves. This would be an example of that. Efficiency isn’t the only possible target to optimize for.

  10. @ Jorge
    The sign I saw was

    You’re lack of preparation does not constitute an emergency on my part

    that said and done, if someone dies unexpectedly or is on their last days..

    Please include the DMV as part of this list to slow things to an absolute crawl while using COVID as an excuse

  11. I generally agree with your assessment of the current state of affairs. But travel to other countries is not a right specified in the Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution. We in this country like to toss around that “right” term a little too loosely.

  12. @Mike Combs – actually the right to travel is a constitutionally protected right. Many courts including the Supreme Court have ruled that the 10th amendment covers the right to travel.

  13. I specifically mentioned travel to Other Countries. The US Government only enables that to happen my issuing a passport that other countries may or my not want to see. There is no right to travel to Mexico , Canada, or any other country.

  14. @ Gary. This is what I am talking about! This is helpful to travelers like me. Gives me an idea how long I will be able to get a passport if I am planning to travel a week, a month or a year from now! NOT that garbage article of yours about the Trump supporter gaining elite status for flying to his rallies last year. Let go of the past, the guy already lost the election. Why are you still talking about him? Unless you want to get labeled as someone with Trump derangement syndrome.

  15. Wow HOW DARE YOU!

    “But if there’s something scummy here, it’s primarily the inability of the U.S. government to fulfill its basic obligations.”

    Seriously, great line, even if unintentional, in describing the state of government, and, yes, so many large businesses. If you get back to basics and become really good at it, is that not successful enough for everyone?

  16. AC you are correct!!
    I thought that the Passport Agency had outsourced Passport renewals???

  17. This is the logical end result of “starve the beast.” We’ve endlessly cut funding for everything except the Pentagon, and we cut taxes for the super-wealthy and corporations to (effectively) 0%, massively reducing revenues. At some point, the whole system tips over. We have now reached that point.

    The super-wealthy can get around this by buying $100,000 second passports in Caribbean countries. To them, it’s a rounding error. To you and me, it’s a desperate scramble to figure out which corrupt palm to grease. Welcome to living in a third world country.

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