More patience required of passport patrons 

Hordes of would-be travelers are packing into local post offices to apply for passports, as federal officials warn that it may take more than two months to secure.

Summer vacations will start in earnest in approximately 10 weeks — the same amount of time the U.S. State Department predicts would be the passport turnaround time. But the U.S. Postal Service says it’s trying to ease the bureaucratic bummer of standing in long lines at post offices, the place many go to apply, be photographed and mail passport applications.

In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began requiring passengers flying back into the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to show a valid passport to border officers upon re-entry to the country. All travelers flying into the United States, including Canadian and Mexican citizens, are also required to present a valid passport from the country of citizenship when arriving.

In the past, a driver’s license or birth certificate was sufficient to make it throughairport customs from these countries. New rules for land and sea travel go into effect in 2008.

James Wigdel, spokesman for the San Francisco Postal District offices, said the postal service is offering weekend "Passport Fairs," where people can apply for passports on their day off. One such local passport fair takes place in Pacifica on March 31, Wigdel said.

The San Francisco district encompasses 241 post offices between Eureka and Sunnyvale, he said. Of those, 86 are certified passport sites that have processed an average of 3,500 per week since the new rules went into effect,

Wigdel added.

Michael Mays, supervisor of the Rincon station on Wednesday, said that the lines have been manageable because passport applications are by appointment only. The station’s appointment book is filled through the end of this month, he said.

Summer vacations notwithstanding, the sudden need for many to secure a passport has some thinking it may not be a bad idea to have one in hand for the future, particularly since they last a decade for adults.

"The more I embark on a professional career, the more I think it’s a good idea to have one for business or just to travel," San Francisco resident and graphic designer David Riofrio said.

Despite the hassle of applying for a passport, fliers are adhering to the rules. Kelly Klundt, spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that 98 to 99 percent of fliers have had passports in hand since the new rules went into effect.

"People are turning out in record numbers," State Department spokesman Steve Royster said. "For brand-new passports, renewals, the whole shebang."

Passport by numbers

3,500: Weekly average number of applications from U.S. Postal Service, San Francisco branch

98-99: Percentage of airplane passengers with passports

10: Possible number of weeks to secure passport

$97: Cost for adults

$82: Cost for children

$60: Additional cost for expedited passports (ready in four weeks or less)

Anyone who has applied for a passport, hasn’t received it yet and needs to leave the country in less than two weeks should call the State Department at (877) 487-2778.

- Source: U.S. State Department, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

tramroop@examiner.com

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