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ON THE SPOT | By Catharine Hamm

Paper crawl

June 24, 2007|Catharine Hamm

Question: On April 5, I sent my passport renewal to the National Passport Processing center in Philadelphia as directed. I've already paid for my trip and am leaving for Canada next month. Is there any way to find out when it will arrive? Or should I just sit tight?

-- Judith Kopf

Santa Barbara

Answer: When it comes to finding out about passports these days, sitting tight is rarely the right solution.

The surge in passport applications has become a tsunami that has swamped the State Department. Until recently conventional wisdom held that a passport would be issued or renewed within five or six weeks.

You can throw that baby out with the bathwater.

Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which took effect in January, you now need a passport for air travel to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. The demand for passports has so overwhelmed the State Department that processing times have doubled, catching many people in a bureaucratic quagmire. The backlog is said to be about 3 million as of last week.

On June 8, the State Department announced it would allow travelers to show proof that they had applied if they hadn't received their documents in time. To find proof that your passport is in process, go to www.travel.state.gov/passport/get/status/status_2567.html. Even that is not an instant solution because it can take a week to track that passport online, the website says.

Furthermore, this solution works only if you are among those going to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or Bermuda. Make sure you also check entry requirements for those destinations; you may need to bring a birth certificate too. (See Travel Insider on Page 15.) If you're going elsewhere, you still need the actual document.

If you're traveling within two weeks, try to get an appointment at the passport agency. Call (877) 487-2778 to set that up, but good luck getting through.

Times staff writer Jane Engle notes in her Q & A posted at latimes.com/passportqa that your last best recourse, if you're stuck in the black hole, is to call your Congress member's office.

If you don't know who that is, go to www.house.gov/writerep.

Otherwise, be prepared to have this become the summer you see America first.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com.

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