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June 23, 2023

Montgomery Co. mom chronicles how ‘trip of a lifetime’ was nearly halted due to unprecedented passport backlog

Credit: WTOP

A Montgomery County family’s trip to Japan could be in jeopardy after the skyrocket in post-COVID passport demands put their request in the processing logjam.

“I have major regrets,” Akara Ingram told WTOP when sharing her roller coaster of an experience.

Ingram sent two of her sons’ documents for renewal ahead of a family trip to Japan in July that’s been in the works since 2019. The passports were set to expire around six months after their trip date and she wanted to be careful.

They had been proactively planning, working and saving to make this $20,000 trip a reality — on top of waiting for COVID restrictions to fully lift.

“I dropped it in the mail in the beginning part of May — May 2nd, and they received it May the 9th, and they cashed a check on May the 10th,” she said.

She said when she picked up the applications at the Post Office, she wasn’t aware of the processing backlog.

“There was no sign that said, ‘Hey, there’s an extended wait period.’ In the past, I’ve always received my passport [in] four to six weeks,” Ingram said.

Her sister in Missouri advised her to check the application status of the passports after hers still had not been received by late June.

Frustration led Ingram to post about her experience on NextDoor, an app for neighborhoods to post local tips and news, and WTOP reporter Mike Murillo reached out to her.

Murillo also reached out to the Department of State and Maryland Congressman David Trone’s office about Ingram’s case, and both confirmed the unprecedented demand for passports this year.

“Due to the Privacy Act of 1974, we can’t confirm or deny which constituents we’re serving. That being said, I can tell you that our passport cases have skyrocketed this year with post-COVID travel,” a spokesperson from Trone’s office said. Their local office is receiving between 40 to 50 cases weekly, and by Memorial Day, they had already exceeded all passport demands from 2022.

Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told WTOP that while they’re working to return to pre-pandemic passport processing times, that hasn’t yet happened. Demand soared in fiscal year 2022, when nearly 22 million passports were issued “more than ever before — and we are on track to break that record again for Fiscal Year 2023,” they said.

Nowadays, it takes 10 to 13 weeks to process a passport application, and for expedited processing, it takes between 7 and 9 weeks and costs an extra $60, plus up to two more weeks to receive it in the mail.

Since WTOP reached out to the State Department and Trone, Ingram said she got a call from the passport agency in Connecticut, which is where her two sons’ passports are currently located. She’s also told WTOP that she’s been contacted by the passport agency in D.C.

Ingram learned about an error in filling out the renewal applications — she should have filled out a different form since her sons’ passports were issued when they were younger than 16 years of age.

She has an in-person appointment to correct the error so her two younger children can get their updated documents.

Whether this will happen in time for their trip remains up in the air, but “I may be able to sleep now,” Ingram said, now that a resolution seems to be within sight.

In the meantime, there’s another piece of happy news: Ingram says the Washington Passport Agency accommodated her appointment time needs, and her 20-year-old son with special needs won’t have to miss Easter Seals Camp.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.