Travellers experiencing delays, roadblocks to get their passports renewed

With international travel picking up since the beginning of the pandemic, many are trying to renew their passports. But as Shauna Hunt reports, the wait could cost families not only their trip, but thousands of dollars.

By Shauna Hunt

Long lines are leading to frustration at Service Canada, made up of people who are supposed to be travelling in a matter of days but instead are hitting roadblocks attempting to get their passports renewed.

CityNews viewer Vanessa and her children are scheduled to fly to Florida on Saturday morning, but after weeks of attempting to get their passports renewed, things are up in the air.

Vanessa admits she has struggled to get an appointment to renew her passport. She requested one last week, and after being told they would take 48 hours to respond, only heard from them Tuesday evening.

“You have to book an appointment first. You cannot walk in,” Vanessa told CityNews.

“I booked an appointment online last Wednesday. I was told [to wait] 48 hours. I did not get a response until yesterday at 5:55 p.m. telling me they cannot give me an appointment and I have to go to a different location in the GTA that does express or walk-ins.”

Service Canada said if residents request an appointment, an officer is expected to contact a client within two days. Most locations make appointments in-person only for those who have flights booked within 25 days. Some sites, including one in Mississauga, accept walk-ins, but the lineups are long, with some waiting eight hours before being turned away.

The Government of Canada website says the following: “We’re experiencing very high call volumes right now. Wait times are longer than usual. If you do not have travel plans in the next two weeks, we suggest you wait to call us.”

If your travel plans are beyond 25 days, you have to renew your passport by mail, which can also be unreliable.

After five hours in line Wednesday and an additional cost to expedite the process, Vanessa is now scheduled to pick up the passports only hours before their flight.

When asked if she was confident they would be ready in time, she said, “Not really, but I did pay the extra, so I am hoping that they do pull through.”

Service Canada tells CityNews they have been experiencing an increase in passport applications across the country. Still, the average processing time is five days if applying in person and 17 days if applying by mail.

A statement also read that offices have a limited number of staff members that can work in close proximity due to COVID-19 regulations, which have reduced the number of open counters to serve clients.

Antonietta, another traveller, is on the verge of losing thousands of dollars after mailing out her application for renewing her passport.

She booked a vacation for her family of seven several months ago and mailed off her documents to start the passport process in February.

“Just by chance, I decided to call the passport office to see the progress, and they said they haven’t even looked at the application yet,” said Antonietta. “And I said ‘Am I guaranteed my passport still?’ and they said ‘Nope, you are going to have to pay to get your files transferred.’”

It’s unknown whether the transfer will happen in time, and she may have to drive to London, Ont., pick up her documents, and then stand in line at a Service Canada walk-in centre to finish the process.

“I’m very frustrated because I did everything by the book. I did everything I was supposed to, and in the end, I’m the one who might not be able to get on my flight on Tuesday.”

If she can’t get on her flight, she stands to lose all the money she spent on her vacation.

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