Passenger travel has been at virtual standstill for months now, but it seems as though things are starting to pick up. On June 18, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screening more than 576,000 airport passengers, which represents a record number of travelers per day seen since those figures’ dismal decline in late March. While the U.S. sheltered in place, it’s unlikely that many were worried about whether they could immediately apply for new travel documents or easily enroll in Trusted Traveler expedited-entry programs. But the pandemic didn’t leave such operations unscathed, and some of those offices are also just getting back on their feet. Here’s a look at the current status of two of those official processing operations.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. Passport service has accumulated a backlog of 1.7 million unprocessed passport renewals and applications since the State Department closed down most of its operations on March 19, 2020. During the past three months, only expedited passport service has been available for those with a verifiable life-or-death emergency that required them to travel abroad within the following 72-hour period.
On June 15, fourteen passport processing centers nationwide reopened with limited service as part of a first-phase operational restart. Some employees are returning to work to process pending applications on a first-in-first-out basis, starting with some applications that were received as far back as February. Anyone submitting a new application can expect processing to be delayed by up to four months.
Expedited services will remain available only to those needing to travel to address life-or-death circumstances.
Overseen by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the TSA PreCheck program lets members circumvent the tedious lines at airport security checkpoints. Enrollment saves the hassle of removing shoes, belts, laptops, etc., and memberships are good for five years at a cost of $85 apiece.
The pandemic has prompted some PreCheck enrollment centers to discontinue or modify their service hours, but most of them remain open. Applicants whose interviews have to be canceled are notified and given the opportunity to rebook. Officials said that the PreCheck program has not suffered from processing delays or acquired a backlog of applications due to the pandemic and that the approval process typically takes between two and three weeks; however, they do recommend that applicants make an appointment instead of going to an enrollment center as a walk-in to help the centers observe limited-capacity and social-distancing guidelines.