7 On Your Side: Passport backlog has travelers scrambling, frustrated

The hottest ticket around right now isn't for a concert or a Broadway show -- it's a slot to get a U.S. passport.

The State Department is still operating under strict COVID guidelines, which means long waits and a lucky break for anyone who manages to score an appointment to apply or renew in person.

So what should you expect if you're planning to travel overseas?

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The first tip is to apply early, taking into account an 18-week turnaround time -- which includes 12 weeks for processing and six more for mailing to and from the State Department.

So if your passport is expired or if you are applying for the first time, don't plan on leaving the country for at least four and a half months from your scheduled time.

Also, don't bother showing up at an agency office unless you have a confirmed time slot to be seen.

"If you don't have an appointment, don't come down thinking we are going to let you in," NYC Passport Office Director Michael Hoffman said. "We are seeing people with life and death emergencies or people traveling within 72 hours, and it is by appointment only."

All in-person applicants have to provide proof they qualify for the appointment to walk away with their valid passport, and Hoffman says the backlog is due to delays with service partners doing data entry and delivery.

He warns appointment are extremely limited and can only be made two ways -- by calling the National Passport Office at 877-487-2778 or visiting the online website.

7 On Your Side has been swamped by complaints from viewers.

The system is in "crisis mode," says Keri in Middletown.

When you call, it always "goes to a busy signal," ranted Debra in Brooklyn.

"I actually spent three hours on the phone this morning to try to get through to an agent to expedite it," she said. "It's really my only option right now."

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Brandon Abrams applied in March. He's traveling to Cabo San Lucas with his girlfriend at the end of July and is holding his breath to get it back on time.

"I'm frustrated and don't know what to do," he said.

Hoffman said 130 additional staff have been brought back to work in person at 16 agencies across the country, and while this won't give immediate relief to those whose passport appointments are in progress, it will gradually bring down wait times.

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