Passport News from the Department of State.

May 23, 2007 on 3:49 pm | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

Passport Production at Record Levels to Meet Demand The Department of State set new records in March and April, issuing more than three million passports to Americans planning international travel.  With passport demand at record levels, passport production time averages 10-12 weeks. Americans should apply at least twelve weeks before they plan to travel.  The Department of State set new records in March and April, issuing more than three million passports to Americans planning international travel.  With passport demand at record levels, passport production time averages 10-12 weeks. Americans should apply at least twelve weeks before they plan to travel.  Passport Production:  For the first seven months (October through April) of Fiscal Year 2007, the 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.  

The Department of State set new records in March and April, issuing more than three million passports to Americans planning international travel.  With passport demand at record levels, passport production time averages 10-12 weeks. Americans should apply at least twelve weeks before they plan to travel.    For the first seven months (October through April) of Fiscal Year 2007, the 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.  Arkansas Passport Center:  The newest passport mega-processing center, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, began pilot operations on March 27 and ramped up production in April.  When the Center reaches full capacity by the end of 2007, the Center will be able to produce more than 10 million passports per year.  The Center has already printed more than 80,000 passports for American citizen travelers.   

This center represents a dynamic, new approach to the production of passports for Americans.  Other domestic passport agencies will electronically transmit approved applications to the Arkansas Passport Center, which is dedicated solely to printing and mailing out large quantities of passports.  By centralizing passport printing the Department will focus resources at other agencies on processing and adjudicating more passport applications.  

Increased Staffing:  Aggressive recruitment brought 170 new government and contract employees onboard during March and April, and retirees with passport adjudication experience are returning to help our efforts.  The Department continues to recruit qualified personnel to meet America’s demands for passports. 

Regional Agencies Working Overtime:  Employees at the 18 Passport Agencies nationwide continue to work overtime daily and on weekends to process applications to meet Americans’ travel plans. 

Expanded Call Center for Information and Appointments:  In addition to its regular business hours, 6 a.m. until midnight, Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, the National Passport Information Center (1-877-487-2778) is open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for customer inquiries and information.  The Center has more than doubled its staff in order to meet public demand and continues to recruit and train new customer service representatives.  

Increased Phone Staff:  On top of their regular duties, State Department employees are volunteering on special telephone task forces to answer questions and help Americans get their passports.  The Department has installed high-capacity telephone lines to increase the volume of telephone calls it can receive, with plans to further expand capacity as needed. 

Increased Desk Staff:  Qualified State Department employees are working on daytime, evening and weekend task forces at the Washington Passport Agency and the National Passport Center in New Hampshire.  These staffers, who supplement the Department’s expanding corps of passport specialists, have approved more than 55,000 applications since mid-March.   
Important Points for Travelers

Applicants should be sure to check their applications against the checklist at http://travel.state.gov/passport; 13 percent of applications are delayed by simple errors such as not signing the application, forgetting to include a check for the applications fee, writing a check for the wrong amount, or submitting a photograph that does not meet Department specifications.  Applications that use the secure online form (first time applicants: https://pptform2.state.gov/DS11/MainDS11.aspx; renewal applicants: https://pptform2.state.gov/DS82/Eligibility.aspx) will be processed more quickly.  

Travelers can check the status of their passport applications online at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/status/status_2567.html.  Information on routine applications is normally available online approximately four weeks after the application is submitted.  Information on expedited applications is normally available online approximately one week after the application is submitted.

Those who have applied and are leaving within two weeks can visit http://travel.state.gov/passport/about/npic/npic_896.html to send an email inquiry to check the status or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.  Other travelers may leave the phone lines open for those with immediate travel needs.

Travelers who have not applied for passports to date should allow at least 10-12 weeks for standard passport processing and 2-3 weeks for expedited processing. Information on how to apply for a passport, including how to expedite processing, is available at http://travel.state.gov.  Applicants requesting expedited service must write “EXPEDITE” on the outside of the envelope containing their application.

 

  2007/415
 

Trouble in Turkey

May 23, 2007 on 1:40 pm | In country travel information, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

On May 22, 2007 a suicide bombing took place in a popular shopping area across form the Parliament building in Ankara’s Ulus district.  Six were killed and more than 100 were injured.  The bombing occurred during rush hour at a bus stop near the entrance to the Anafartalar shopping center.  The Ulus district is one of the prime tourist areas in Ankara.  As you may know, a similar bombing took place in a bazaar in Izmir’s Bornova district on May 12th, killing 1 and injuring a dozen others.

In a  worrying coincidence that occurred today (May 23rd), two possible suicide bombers were arrested in southern Turkey.  A female was  apprehended in Adana with A-4 explosives.  A male was detained in Mardin with an explosive belt loaded with A-4.  Both of those arrested are suspected of being affiliated with the Kurdish separtist group Kongra Gel (KGK – formerly known as the PKK).

Turkey’s government is concerned about the KGK’s threat to public safety and its potential influence on travel and tourism.  The Turkish government and military believe that the KGK has operational bases in the Kurdish section of Iraq that borders Turkey.  While Turkey is considering military action in this area, it has been asked to refrain by the U.S. and the United Nations.  In many ways, inaction is a growing more difficult for the government and the situation, in either case, may become more dangerous for tourists traveling in Turkey.

For those of you who have not visited Turkey, it is a magical place.  Its people are warm and hospitable and its historical buildings and heritage are among the true treasures of humankind.  Unfortunately, future events may lead to us to recommend you not travel to Turkey this season.  We will keep you updated as news develops.

Fire at Greenwich Damages the Cutty Sark, Last High-Speed China Clipper

May 21, 2007 on 10:01 am | In country travel information, travel, travel news | Comments Off

A fire severely damaged the Cutty Sark while it was undergoing renovation at dry dock in Greenwich, just outside London.  The ship, which had been a popular tourist attraction, burned for over two hours.

Due to the renovation, many of the ships planks and most of its detailing had been removed and were not damaged in the fire.  The Cutty Sark Society (the charitable trust overseeing the ship) indicated their intent to rebuild, but a schedule was not announced.  For further details see their website.

Potential Trouble on the Border between Austria and the Czech Republic

May 21, 2007 on 9:50 am | In country travel information, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

On June 2, 2007 an extremist political party will attempt to block an undesignated border crossing between Austria and the Czech Republic.  As you may know, the Czech Republic is developing a nuclear power plant in Temelin (south Bohemia), which many Austrians claim does not have the appropriate safety systems.

Several Austrian anti-nuclear groups have been protesting this issue at border crossings and now the same thing is going to happen on the other side of the border.  The Czech activists have announced that it is their intention to target only Austrian drivers.

If you plan on driving in Austria or between Austria and the Czech Republic, avoid all border crossings between the countries on June 2.

 

Traveling to Galway, Ireland? Watch out for the water!

May 15, 2007 on 9:37 pm | In country travel information, travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The U.S. Embassy in Dublin released a Warden Message on May 14 indicating that the Galway area of Ireland has been experiencing problems with the  cryptosporidiosis parasite since March of this year.  Ingesting the parasite, which commonly occurs in fecal material, causes diarhea.  Although testing of the water from the local supply plant has not revealed the presence of the parasite, drinking water is a possible transmission route.  As a precaution, the Galway Council has issued a “boil water” notice. If you will be traveling in Galway this month, we suggest you drink only bottled water and avoid salads and other uncooked food that may be served after being washed in water.  Be sure to inquire locally on this issue if you will be travleling in Galway.

Next G-8 Meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany – June 6 – 8

May 10, 2007 on 7:52 am | In country travel information, personal travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The G-8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) are planning to hold their 2007 “summit” in Germany at Heilegendamm , a resort on the Baltic Sea.  The meeting will take place between June 6th and June 8th.  Traditionally, the G-8 has attracted anti-globalization protestors who see the G-8 meetings as a forum for continued globalization of economies and cultures.

As you may know, the 2005 meeting of the G-8 in Scotland was interrupted by the terrorist attack on the London Tube, which coincided with the start of the G-8 meeting.  The German goverment recently revealed that it possessed intelligence concerning a radical Islamic cell intending to attack an  American facility in Germany.  Although the time, date and specific target remains unknown, many in the press are speculating that the terrorist attack might occur during the G-8.  While the possibility of a terrorist attack remains speculation, we urge you to be alert to your surroundings if  you plan on traveling in Germany during this period.

Our advice:  avoid Heiligendamm and nearby towns such as Rostock, where demonstrators are expected to gather.   Note that the German police and intelligence services will be on alert from now through the end of the G-8.  In addition to stepped-up security, expect increased surveillance and the possibility of in-depth checking at border crossings, as the German government attempts to limit the entry of people they consider potential ”trouble-makers”.

 

Italy – Alitalia Flight Attendant Strike May 21

May 9, 2007 on 12:58 pm | In country travel information, personal travel, travel, travel news | Comments Off

Alitalia has had a difficult year.  As the Italian goverment attempts to find a buyer for its share of the airline, its unions keep striking for better wages and working conditions.  In the latest disruption, Aliitalia’s flight attendants will strike on May 21.  The strike is scheduled to last 24 hours,  Earlier this month, a similar strike resulted in the cancellation of over 300 flights.

If you plan on traveling with Alitalia on this date, contact the airline to see what alternatives exist.  Our suggestion: Take another day of vacation and avoid the hassle.

 

Strikes in Italy

May 8, 2007 on 8:19 am | In country travel information, personal travel, travel news | Comments Off

Italians love many things and it shows.  Food in Italy can be the best, fashion is outstanding, the pace of life is wonderful and the strikes—–  well, they never seem to end.

Today, cab drivers across Italy are on strike over dissatisfaction with government plans to open the business to more competition.  According to recent reports, over 85% of the country’s cab drivers were expected to be on strike.  The only good thing about this action is that in smaller cities, it will last for just a few hours and the hours will be staggered across the country.  In larger cities such as Rome, however,the strike will last all day and into the evening.

We know that strikes are discomforting to many. On the other hand, if you want to travel in Italy, you should be preprared for them, as they are very common. 

It is rare that wildcat strikes occur in Italy.  Everyone who wants to strike, must file formal papers with a government board and receive approval to strike. The matters are  considered, approved or denied and the government then publicizes a list of approved strikes, their dates and the geographic locations involved. What this means is that everyone knows when a strike is coming and if you pay attention to the news (or ask at your hotel) you will too.

So, be prepared to go with the flow, as it is likely that there will be a strike of some type during your travel in Italy!

 

France and Its New President

May 8, 2007 on 8:02 am | In country travel information, personal travel, travel news | Comments Off

As most of you know by now, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France last weekend.  At this early stage, it is hard to say whether his tenure will revitalize the country, which was the central plank in his election platform – to break with past and social processes that were not working.  Well, this is not a political website,so we wish Mr. Sarkozy great success.

Our concern, however, is with travel and tourism under the new president.  As you may also know, Sarkozy was the interior minister during the three weeks of riots that shook France late in 2005.  By all accounts, he is despised in the suburbs dominated by immigrants from northern Africa and the Middle East.  Since his election, there has been sporadic violence in this community across France that has been considered a show of these residents dissatisfaction with the vote and their status in French society.  During this summer, all travelers to France should pay extra attention to this issue.

It is likely that problems could flare in Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and Toulouse, although trouble could pop-up anywhere.  In general, the rioting in 2005 was far from the tourist areas in most of these cities, although it did affect trains to and from the DeGaulle airport.  So, keep an eye out if you plan to travel in any of the urban centers of France this summer.

 

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