Travelers undaunted by new passport rules 

The first day of stricter passport regulations Tuesday went smoothly at San Francisco International Airport, according to federal officials, travelers and ticket agents.

Passengers flying back into the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean were required to show a valid passport for the first time Tuesday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers upon their return to the country. All travelers flying into the United States, including Canadian and Mexican citizens, must also present a valid passport from their country of citizenship when arriving.

In the past, a driver’s license or birth certificate were sufficient to clear airport customs for U.S., Mexican and Canadian citizens.

Dominic Mills, traveling to Canada with his family on Tuesday, said he heard about the new requirements in a radio ad several weeks ago and made sure to have passports before the trip.

"There wasn’t a real long line at customs," Mills said. "I hope most people went and got that taken care of."

Aside from an increase in calls from people wondering how to apply for passports, the Consulate General of Canada in San Francisco reported no issues with the new requirements, part of the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative aimed at strengthening border security.

"We’re often called in for emergency assistance if someone can’t get back in the country and we haven’t had anything like that today," Canadian Consulate spokeswoman Stefanie McCollum said.

Passports, which can be obtained at post offices, take six to eight weeks to process and cost $97 for those age 16 and older and $82 for those under age 16. Expedited service, taking only take two weeks, costs an additional $60.

Officials were not detaining anyone who did not have a passport, according to customs and border patrol spokeswoman Roxanne Hercules.

Passengers without a passport were simply given a warning and a packet of information detailing the new requirements and how to go about acquiring a passport, Hercules said.

After phase one of the new rules is over in 60 days, though, people may be detained or fined if they don’t have passports, Hercules said.

"At that point, you must have heard about the changes," Hercules said.

Similar requirements for land and sea travelers will take effect in 2008, according to the U.S. State Department.

Pre-screening program kicks off in San Jose

The registered traveler program kicked off Tuesday at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport, allowing pre-screened passengers to fly though sometimes long and arduous security lines.

Newly installed kiosks at the airport will support the first private registered traveler program in the Bay Area and on the West Coast, according to GE spokesman Steve Hill.

Travelers interested in applying for the program can apply online at They must then go to a station at the airport that makes a digital copy of their fingerprint and iris. The federal Transportation Security Administration must approve every application, after which an annual enrollment fee of $99.95 will be applied, which includes a TSA vetting fee.

Travelers’ information will be put on a biometric card acceptable at registered-traveler-only lanes at security.

Airport officials expect business travelers to make the most use of the new technology.

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