Texarkana Gazette

How to make sure your documents are up to date for the return of travel

- By Natalie B. Compton

With 2020 behind us, travelers are dreaming of taking trips again. The long year at home has given travelers time to think about where they’ll go next, and the coronaviru­s vaccine rollout is giving people hope that they may actually get to go soon.

To best prepare for the return of travel, whenever it comes, you may want to get your travel documents in order. Even if you’re not planning on hitting the road (or sky, or sea) any time soon, it may be in your best interest to act early. Because of the pandemic, some government agencies that process highly important items are operating slower than normal.

Passports and passport cards

For months last year, it was impossible for travelers to get a passport as the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs went into lockdown. Once the offices reopened in June, the bureau began chipping away at a massive backlog of applicatio­ns and promised passports back in about 10 weeks.

When travelers go online to apply for a passport now, the State Department website notes that staffing and temporary facility closures may cause a small percentage of routine applicatio­ns to take more than 12 weeks to process, but most people should expect to get their passport in 10 to 12 weeks, or pay $60 to have it expedited in four to six weeks.

“There are still delays; I’m a little disappoint­ed with processing times,” says David Alwadish, the founder of the ItsEasy passport agency.

Alwadish tells clients that passports may come back in around 10 to 13 weeks. He recommends those seeking expedited passports apply about five weeks early and warns that getting an appointmen­t at a passport office has still been a struggle for some clients, as has getting life-or-death emergency passports approved.

FedEx Office passport services expects the same. Charlie Cobb, the COO of Expedited Travel, says customers can expect standard processing times to be about 10 to 12 weeks.

“The current processing times are slower than the previous ‘standard’ processing times,’ ” Cobb said in an email. “COVID is certainly still impacting the passport processing times provided at the Passport Agencies. However, there are 4-6 week expediting services available.”

As for passport cards, Alwadish says travelers can expect the same processing time as a regular passport.

Real ID

The pandemic bumped the deadline for U.S. air travelers needing a Real ID credential for domestic flights to Oct. 1, 2021. Those who have recently applied for a Real ID say they haven’t experience­d significan­t delays. Travelers must make an in-person appointmen­t at their local DMV to apply.

What is a Real ID? The Department of

Homeland Security says the identifica­tion is being implemente­d to combat forgery and fraud.

If you don’t get one by the deadline and need to travel domestical­ly, you can use a passport at security check-in instead.

TSA PreCheck

Although air travel is still down considerab­ly, passenger numbers are ramping back up. Empty airports may be a thing of the past by the time you fly next, and TSA PreCheck will get you through airport security quicker. The $85 membership lasts for five years. (FYI, some travel credit cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Card, will cover the cost of PreCheck.)

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