Check Your Passport Expiration Dates...Now!

Looking for the rainbow...

We had been planning a trip to Israel for months. First we were going just for a Bar Mitzvah of our friend's son. Then we were going to make a trip out of it and stay for three weeks. It was huge. Lot's of planning. Lot's of thought. Yesterday at 11pm we were checking into the flight online, pulled out the passports only to find out, to our horror, that the children's passports expired nine months ago! Where was the planning?! We're world travelers, for crying out loud! What went wrong?! How are we going to make this trip happen?! Eleven pm the night before the flight. It seemed impossible.

Here was our thought process...

1) We could just show up with our kids, our luggage and backpacks, maybe some snacks and their expired passports and hope for the best. Maybe plead ignorance. "What?! Oh, their passports are expired?! OMG, could you please let us in anyway?? We're very nice people. What, you say that our children look nothing like the photos on those old passports?" No way. Do Not Even Try This.

2) Google "How to get a passport in a hurry" and you'll find what might be the answer to the dilemma. There's a host of passport-expediter services ready to seemingly make your life easier. You can get your passport in 2 business days for $299 each. Add to that $50 for a FedEx package, one-way to the passport agency, and add another $50 for the return trip from the magical passport genie service, and then add the normal rush charge of $60 that the U.S. Passport Agency charges for those bad planners who need it speedy quick. Oh, and you still need to do steps i - v shown below. That's a lot of pita bread, especially because we have two kids. Gulp.

3) Call the airline and start to cry and see if they have any suggestions. One suggestion was to call the U.S. consulate for Israel in New York. Their message essentially said they were on strike and don't leave a message. A second option was to call TSA. See if they'll make an exception. Ask if they can write us a letter. Vouch for us? Anything? No dice. How about call the Department of State? We called DOS and we were told, without question, do not travel without an up-to-date passport. OK, got that cleared up. What should we do now?! We told our new contact that we tried and could not get an appointment at the NYC passport office (our closest U.S. Passport Agency office) until Aug 7. He asked how flexible we were and, of course, we said VERY. He did some tapping on a computer and said that we could have an appointment in the Portsmouth NH (near Boston) office on Tuesday at 11am and fly out of Boston or we could have an appointment in Buffalo NY on Friday at 9am and fly out of Buffalo. We could pay the expedite fee, wait 3 - 4 hours and be on our way. He said "you will have your passports in 3-4 hours. No problem."

We were on the phone with this guy at the same time as we were on another phone with the airline (United) to try to re-schedule our flight out. Because of all of our strategic planning, we had a pretty good air fare to Israel. In order to change our outgoing flight, we would probably incur a cost because the price will have gone up...we just wanted to find the combination that would give us the lowest added cost possible. Plus, don't forget, there would be a "change fee" ($300/each ticket) for changing the reservation! Now the United agent, hearing our pitiful story had a little rachmunus, a little pity, and waived the change fee (whew, we just saved $1,200 smackers! Thank you, United!) Then we just needed to explain to United that we had to fly out of either Buffalo on Friday or Boston on Tuesday and please tell us which will cost us the least. At $287 per ticket additional, it was 'hello Buffalo!' and a side trip to Niagara Falls (see rainbow above).

If you need to get a U.S. passport in a hurry, here's what you do. Find a U.S. Passport Agency that's near you or that you're willing to get to in some way (drive, fly, skateboard, hitchhike), a place where you can get a confirmed appointment. You need a confirmation number. Don't just show up. Then bring these materials (if it is your child (a minor) who needs the passport):

i) The kid's previous passport.
ii) Both parents, if the kid has two parents. If one parent can't make it, you need some sort of letter. What a hassle! Fastest way. Both parents, in the flesh, carrying their own passports (as proof of who they are).
iii) The kid's birth certificate. The one with the seal, not a copy. This will verify who the parents are.
iv) Parents: bring your driver's license. This will show evidence of your address.
v) A filled-out DS-11 form. But do not sign it yet. Sign it in front of the Passport Agency personnel.

Pay the fee (they take credit cards). Come back in 3 to 4 hours. And, behold, passports!

And happy-ish parents! It cost us way too much for this mistake, but we are on our way to Israel.

But if you do find yourself in this predicament and you happen to go to the Buffalo office (nice folks there), be sure to check out Niagara Falls during your "down time." And do not play the blame game with your significant other!

Learn from our mistake.

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