Monday, February 8, 2016

The adventure begins long before the passport is issued

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

The item showed up on Facebook feeds before we saw it on the news. It said that Illinois driver’s licenses and state IDs were no longer federally compliant for airline travel. This meant that TSA could require additional security measures before allowing Illinois residents to board an airplane. The measures could range from additional identification to a pat-down to a private conversation in an office. The way to avoid these additional measures was to get passports.
Our daughters are twelve years old. We have had Illinois identification cards for them since they were six. Now we had to decide if we were going to take our chances with their ID cards or go ahead and get passports. The thought of having our girls endure a pat-down or office interrogation was so disturbing that we decided to get passports. We knew we had at least one family event that might require us to board a plane in 2016. We didn’t want to wait and see what TSA decided for fear that we would run up against travel deadlines. We made plans to get our girls’ passports.

If you haven’t gotten a passport for someone under 18 years old, let’s just say it’s a process. You have to bring a certified birth certificate as evidence of the child’s U.S. citizenship, both parents, the child, evidence of the child’s relationship to the parents/guardians, and parent/guardian government-issued identification. In addition to the paperwork, you need two small photos. We took our girls to get their passport photos. It was fairly easy, even though there are a lot of rules about what the photo needs to show. We paid $25 and ended up with two images each.

With all our stuff and everyone needed to complete the process, we ended up at the Western Springs post office on a Saturday morning. We waited patiently in line until it was our turn. When we walked in the door there was one clerk helping a woman who appeared to be paying in coins. Eventually JL came to the counter and asked if he could help us. We explained that we were there to get passports for our children. JL replied, “We don’t do passports after 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays.” We protested that it was 11:05 a.m. and we had been waiting in line since before 11:00 a.m. JL said it was past time and no one would help us. We were angry as we left the post office. No one was in line behind us. We had been waiting since before the cut-off time, but no one would help us.

Our next attempt to obtain a passport took us to the Bridgeview post office on a Wednesday afternoon. We took time off work with the hope that we could get it done more quickly on a weekday than on a weekend. All four of us stood in line while the clerks helped people with their mailings. When we made it to the front of the line, we found ourselves waiting behind a young man who seemed confused by the options. We spent nearly 30 minutes behind him as he went back and forth. Should he get both the passport book and the card? Just the book? When might he need the card? Should he pay the extra fee to expedite? He didn’t have travel plans, but he might want to just go somewhere. Was it worth the extra money to expedite?

By the time we made it to the front we were exhausted and we hadn’t even started yet. Lisa went through our papers carefully, often asking the same question more than once. Our girls stood around trying to be patient, but it was a long wait followed by a long process. We were all bundled in our winter gear, so everyone was overheating. We started taking off layers, which meant we were standing around holding all our stuff. At one point Lisa said she needed to talk to our daughters. She looked at one application, asked our daughter her name and birth date. She confirmed that her hair and eye color matched what we wrote on the application. She moved on to the next daughter, asked the same questions and finalized the paperwork.

We started writing checks to cover the fees. First we wrote two separate $95 checks to the U.S. State Department. Second we wrote a $50 check to cover the U.S. Post Office’s “handling” fees. At one point I overheard another clerk suggest that his customer applying for a passport should send the paperwork via registered mail. He said that they had issues getting the paperwork to the U.S. State Department. I snickered at the irony of a U.S. Post Office employee telling a customer that they couldn’t guarantee the passport application would arrive without tracking. We were paying $25 per passport for a handling fee, and postage to mail the documents, yet the clerk wasn’t confident that the U.S. Post Office could get the envelop to the correct address.

Nearly $300 later and many lost hours, our daughters’ passports were in progress.

Of course our girls’ passports were probably not at the U.S. State Department yet when another news report started showing up on Facebook. Yes, You Can Fly With An Illinois Driver’s License: Getting Real On REAL ID meant all our work was for nothing. We could have avoided three days of frustration gathering documents, getting photographs and standing in line if the news came earlier, but at least it is over now. No matter how many times the federal government changes its policy, our girls are covered for the next five years.

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