SALT LAKE CITY — Some overlooked passport gotchas can easily leave you stranded on your long-planned dream vacation.
A mistake on a passport application nearly cost a Utah family their cruise through the Mexican Riviera. Brian and Claudia Bentley had planned to take their grandchildren along with their daughter, Jennifer, who is fighting cancer.
“Our daughter has been very ill,” Claudia Bentley said. “She hasn’t been anywhere in years, so we wanted to take her someplace so she could relax and have a vacation.”
But grandson Brian Johnson mistakenly flubbed his Social Security number. The Bentleys didn’t find out there was a problem until a month later.
“The passport agency in San Francisco required us to submit further identification on him,” Brian Bentley said about his grandson, Brian. “And we did that promptly, but then we never did get his passport back after weeks of waiting.”
The Bentleys say they submitted Brian’s application three months ahead of the cruise. Just days from departure, there still was no passport.
"The only thing they would tell us is that it is in process,” remembered Brian Bentley. “But they actually would not locate where his passport was and tell us how long it would be until it was sent.”
“I basically lost all hope on the passport,” Brian Johnson said. “I was preparing to stay home for about a week without anyone around. It was pretty worrisome.”
“If they put the wrong information, yeah, it puts it on hold,” said longtime travel broker Connie Davis. Davis expedites passports, and fixing a mistake like a wrong Social Security number typically takes 24 to 48 hours for her agency to fix, she says. But the process for travelers working with a government passport office is much longer.
“If it’s just a normal process — that takes six to eight weeks,” Davis said. “You really have to watch those details, they are important. Signatures — really important.”
Davis also warns of an even bigger issue lying ahead for travelers. Passport agencies, right now, are bracing for a massive surge in renewals a decade in the making. Back in 2007, a new law required U.S. citizens to carry passports into Canada and Mexico — the two top foreign destinations for Americans.
“They’re all becoming expired now,” Davis said. “So that’s why more people are applying for renewals. It makes a big difference if they get a lot of applications compared to the normal processing.”
Right now, the U.S. State Department estimates some 49 million people will need to renew their passports over the next couple of years — way, way higher than normal volume. It’s already urging Americans to renew their passports early to avoid those delays that could derail a planned trip.
But there’s another gotcha that could easily ruin a vacation. Many countries don’t view expiration dates the way the U.S. does, and it’s leaving people stranded.
“They’re at the airport, they go to get on the airplane and the particular country they’re going to requires a passport be valid for six months, or three months, beyond their travel,” Davis said.
So, even if you technically have several months left on your passport, practically it's already expired because certain countries still won't let you on a ship or plane.
You can check nearly every country on the State Department’s travel website. Turns out, in Australia, your passport only needs to be valid when you enter. But travel to France, and you need at least three months left on your passport. China wants at least six months.
The detail is so overlooked, many Utahns send out an S-O-S to Sen. Orrin Hatch for rescue.
“We have a lot of interesting stories over the past 40 years of people we’ve helped,” Hatch told KSL. “We’ve helped Utahns from all over the country who don’t know where to turn and don’t know what to do.”
Hatch says his office is generally very successful in resolving passport issues.
“You need to do it well in advance,” Hatch said. “Come to us early, really, make the applications early.”
In fact, it was the senator's office that straightened out Brian Johnson’s paperwork, allowing him to set sail on the cruise with his ailing mom.
“She was very thankful,” Johnson said. “She got the opportunity to spend a lot of time with us.”