I love a good adventure. I love playing the travel odds. But even I got caught by the biggest bonehead travel stunt of all time. I was ready to embark on my three week excursion to Italy commencing on my birthday, Monday, March 23rd. They allow twenty-four hour advance check-in on line, so on Sunday, I attempted to do so. There was a request to check in with a ticket agent. Hmmm … *shrugs* oh well, it must be because it’s international. So with hours to spare and bags packed: lap top in carry-on (otherwise it’s considered an import) with slippers and change of clothing and shawl (aka blankie) and best damned travel pillow ever, I journey to Delta check-in. I tell the gal I think I need to talk to her because of the recommendation when I tried to check in early but I tell her I thought it was because it’s international. She is as confused as me until I point out that maybe it’s so close to my expiration date. At this point I’m still believing that I’m going on this trip. My passport is valid, I know so. I checked the date before I planned the trip. It was one of the deciding factors in when I was going. I wanted to get the trip in before my passport expired. I even got on the web site and perused “Renewal” to see if I had enough time to get that done before I left. Savvy traveller lesson #2: READ EVERYTHING. Not all web sites are the same. She asks me where I’m going and says she believes I have to have six months left on my passport before I can go. We read the web site. Yep, Italy requires three months out after your last day. So, I’m thinking, let me get this straight. I have a passport that has not expired, but it’s not valid? I ask her how a person is supposed to know that six month thing. I wonder out loud why they sell international tickets to people who do not have that six month window. Now here’s the part where the ticket agent’s face gets all stoney as she expects me to lose my cool. She says I must have missed that notice. I’m trying not to throw up on her counter. All I can think about is all that money I’ve racked up on this trip, my ticket, about a thousand dollars worth of frequent flyer miles on my Capital One Venture card, reservations secured with that card, friend contacts made … rather than say again, “Are you kidding me?” I ask her “What do I do now?” She gives me a Delta number to call and tells me to hurry down to the post office (federal, see) and speak to the passport representative, but she carefully — with her calm tone like she’s addressing a child who might pitch a tantrum — tells me she believes it will still be a couple of days before I can get an expedited renewed passport. I ask, “So, I’m not going to be on this flight?” She looks at the clock, and I give her credit for that, and says, “I don’t see how.” She then tells me how sorry she is for the inconvenience and I tell her it is not her fault and creep away with my humiliatingly fushcia carry-on slumped sadly atop my meticulously packed wheely bag.
So, since I put the cab company number into my phone ages ago, I call a cab to take me back to my vehicle and zoom to the post office down town, Great Falls, Montana. I used to live in Great Falls. I am a fourth generation Montanan, a state with an agricultural base. Very few of us consider ourselves worldly or well traveled or even particularly cultural. Some of us try to keep up digitally. The lady at the post office is not among those. She had a little placard in her window declaring she was currently taking passport pictures and would be right back. I waited, feeling dismal. Presently she came in, smiling benignly, said, “You must be my next appointment.” I responded that no I was not that but that I had travel problems. I told her the gal at the airport had sent me down there. I told her my passport was short of validity and I didn’t know what to do next. Seemingly offended by my lack of appointment, she instructed me it took a month to get a new passport. I asked her about an expedited passport and she backed that time up to a week and a half. Then she got out her big ominous looking three ring binder and gave me the U.S. passport services number which I have in my phone and suggested that maybe I could fly into one of the cities who have a passport service but she was very strict in telling me that I would have to make an appointment and get the passport and it might be done in a day or two. Clearly she considered me an idiot who wouldn’t make an appointment. I wrote down the number she gave me and was dismissed.
Dejected, miserable travel buffoon that I was, I wandered out to my vehicle to call the Delta representative. After a short wait, a Sherri Thomas came on the line. I began by telling her I had indeed pulled the biggest bonehead travel stunt of all time and I didn’t know what to do next. I told her I had been to the post office and that lady had suggested the going to Atlanta or Detroit or somewhere to get a passport while I’m in that city. I’d have to make that coveted appointment, leave the airport, and hang out over night and I still wouldn’t get to my vacation for several days. Trouble with that plan is I can’t use the already purchased ticket because it is international and I can’t get on the plane because my passport is short of validity. So dear Sherri begins to look up costs of flights to these cities. She says I’m looking at 3800 dollars and that wouldn’t include the return flight and I’d be better off trying to get a cheap ticket off the internet. But the very first thing she said was, my ticket was good until March 2, 2016. I told her I couldn’t afford 3800 and I was worrying about all those Venture Capital One miles. She said they’d be gone if I didn’t use the ticket I had. And then the wonderful helpful Sherri Thomas said she would waive the 300 dollar penalty fee on my ticket and even put it in the system and wrote it on the ticket. What it amounts to is a credit with Delta good until March 2nd of next year. It is no surprise to me that more people fly Delta than any other airline. Hence, travel rule #3 arises: be flexible!
But now to the issue of the passport. Really? I’m asking myself. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. It’s a renewal. It’s not like the thing is expired. There must be a faster way to get your passport renewed. I get on-line. First of all, you need to fill out an application. The passport agent at the post office could have handed me the application. Maybe I needed to make an appointment to get that from her. There is a fee, of course, and you need to have two photographs taken within the last six months. CVS Pharmacy takes passport photos. So does Costco. Triple A does it for free. But here’s the thing. It can all be done digitally on-line. It is possible to fill out the application on-line, send your picture from your computer (most have cameras) or you can attach a file from your smart phone, and send your money electronically these days. You can pay extra for a RUSH. You can just get an expedited one in twenty-four hours. TWENTY-FOUR hours! They have passport books with chips in them now so your information is stored somewhere else electronically. It can also allow for quicker movement through customs. It’s sure too bad the passport agent at the post office didn’t know ANY of that. I would think that as a paid employee of the federal government behind her little window with “Passport Services” above it, she might be expected to be up to date on those services.
It took me two days to discover all of that information and get my reservations and contacts cancelled and refunds on my museum passes and wine tours. With the exception of the non-refundable room (which was my own fault for not adhering to Travel Rule #2: read everything on a site) I got all my money back. I could have soldiered on and made my vacation two days later, but I learned much from this experience and hopefully now so have you. Now I can learn more Italian and lose more weight! So my Italian trip has been postponed but between now and … May?, September?, I’ll have more adventures to relate. And the minute I pick a new date — one minute after I have that renewed passport in my hand — I’ll start all over again on my Tuscan Corkscrew Adventure.