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New Travel Regulations Are Confusing Travelers

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As if the long lines, bureaucratic bungling, red tape and ruined plans of a dream vacation in a tropical paradise from Antiqua to Venezuela weren’t bad enough, many American tourists may misunderstand the newest regulations involving passport requirements just issued by the State Department.


Moreover, the largest travel organization in the nation and the region is also urging would-be travelers to review the new regulations carefully before to avoid getting stranded after flying to and from the Cayman Islands, or St. Kitts, or other countries in the Western Hemisphere.


The State Department’s announcement regarding eased passport requirements for airline passengers traveling to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda does not mean that passports will not be needed at all, as some could easily believe, according a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.


“Three months,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.


“That’s how long it took many citizens planning to fly to dream vacation spots, beaches and resorts in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean just to get a passport under the State Department’s guidelines that went into effect earlier this year. It spawned a bureaucratic nightmare.”


“Travelers found the regulations oppressively complex and time-consuming. The backlog caused a backlash from millions of fuming and flummoxed would-be-travelers. And now with today’s announcement, things just might become even more confusing for travelers.”


According to the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, citizens who were previously required to have a passport, may now fly in and out of other nations in the Western Hemisphere through September 30, 2007 by providing official proof that they have applied for a United States passport and a government issued photo identification card.


Official proof of application can be obtained at http://travel.state.gov.


While the Bush Administration’s announcement is great news for those nervously waiting for their passports to arrive in time for their summer vacation, it does not mean that others are able to travel via air without having even applied for a passport.


"The federal government is making this accommodation for air travel due to longer than expected processing times for passport applications in the face of record-breaking demand," the State Department announced in its official statement.


However, there is concern regarding further confusion which this newest change may create. “We are concerned that this new rule may be misinterpreted by some citizens to mean that they no longer need anything but their driver’s license as was the case in the past,” Townsend said. “That just is not the case.”


During the last Fiscal Year, the State Department issued more than 12 million passports to citizens in anticipation of the new passport rules that went into effect earlier this year on January 23, 2007.


The State Department expected a record number of Americans, some 16 million or more, to apply for a U. S. passport, but the system was simply overwhelmed.


Each year millions of Americans seek out the warm waters and white sandy beaches of Bermuda and the Islands of the Caribbean - the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas – during high tourist season.


The bottleneck in the present system caused chaos, confusion and consternation for untold thousands of travelers who didn’t get their passports back in time after booking expensive vacations.


New passport requirements and time lines under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative have been challenging for the travel industry and the traveling public as they have changed numerous times,” Townsend noted.


It is regrettable that when the State Department issued new rules requiring millions of additional travelers to have passports that they did not also put in place the systems and personnel adequate to handle the tidal wave of new passport requests in a timely manner.


"Now the backlog is apparently so bad that they have to change the rules again to allow for their inability to provide the documents in a timely way. While the change is certainly good news for some, the revised rules are also potentially confusing to many,” Townsend said.


Travelers will still need passports or proof that they applied for passports, so we are urging everyone to proceed as before—nothing changes except that proof of application will be accepted in lieu of the real thing, if the State Department is unable to deliver your passport in a timely manner.


Passport and Travel Statistics:


Approximately 27 percent of Americans have a valid passport.


The U.S. outbound market grew by three percent in 2005. That year 63.5 million U.S. travelers went abroad, surpassing the 2004 record of 61.8 million.


Canada and Mexico are the top international destinations for Americans. According to the Commerce Department, 5.6 million Americans traveled by air to Mexico and 3.9 million traveled to Canada.


During first seven months of Fiscal Year 2007 - October through April - the State Department issued 8.6 million passports. “This is a 33 percent increase from the same period last year and is more passports than were issued in any single full year before 2003,” according to the State Department.


Moreover, during March and April the State Department issued more than more than three million passports to American planning international travel. That was a new record.


Whether Americans were vacationing in St. Lucia or Buenos Aires, the new passport requirements were mandated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was passed by Congress in an effort to strengthen border security.


To obtain a passport for the first time, citizens must present themselves in person to one of 7,000 passport offices located throughout the United States. Proof of citizenship, two photographs and valid photo identification, such as a driver’s license are mandatory.


Passport photos can be taken at a variety of locations including AAA offices and local camera shops.


Citizens must also present themselves in person under the following circumstances; Applicant is not in possession of their expired passport, applicant possesses an expired passport which was issued more than 15 years ago, applicant’s previous passport was issued prior to their reaching 16 years of age, applicant’s passport has been lost or stolen.


Specific details on how to obtain or renew passports and all necessary forms can be found at www.travel.state.gov/passport.

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