ST. ALBANS, Vt. – St. Albans has been host to some unhappy visitors over the past several days after word began to spread that the Vermont Passport Agency location there had been taking walk-in appointments amid a nationwide backlog of requests.
Some had been waiting outside the office on South Main Street for nearly two days, and as recently as Thursday morning, a line wrapped around the corner of the building. People from New York City, Long Island, Connecticut, Dallas and other faraway areas hoped to avoid the estimated 12 to 18 week delay that the State Department is working through as people look to travel for the first time in over a year.
People in line said St. Albans was one of the only locations in the U.S. offering walk-in passport service, and many had family members who came to get their passport in recent weeks.
Their hope was doused when an official opened the main entrance to the building Thursday morning and told the crowd of nearly 50 people that there were no longer any walk-in appointments available.
“Don’t stay overnight in this location, we don’t take walk-ins,” the official said.
Needless to say, the crowd was disappointed.
“We’ve gone on two hours of sleep in a chair,” said Kelly Waddleton, who traveled with her friend from Nutley, New Jersey. “They changed their plans overnight just like that, and we had no idea.”
“All of a sudden, today they tell us they’re not doing walk-ins anymore,” said Derick Sherrier of New York City. “They’re just leaving us here in the hot sun and the heat to dry… It’s very, very disappointing.”
People were told to call a 1-800 number posted on the door, but travelers we spoke with who were still holding out hope said they were put on hold for two hours, and some of them were hung up on.
“Sometimes you reach somebody and they can’t help you at all, they tell you to make appointments online and the system is always completely booked,” Sherrier said.
Overall, the mood Thursday afternoon was one of disappointment. Luis Phillips and Ruth Ortiz of New Jersey had already been on a long journey prior to their St. Albans visit – they said they were at the airport when they realized one of their passports expires in the next six months, and because of that, they weren’t permitted to leave the country.
“I waited in line 7 hours yesterday in Connecticut, and we have been here since 3 am,” Ortiz said. “At the beginning, we were supposed to go in, no luck. Some people have gone in without an appointment, so why not everybody?”
“What we need to do is visit our family that’s ill in the Dominican Republic, but there’s not much help now at the moment,” Phillips said.
By Thursday evening, the crowd had left. The State Department’s backlog is anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million passport requests. The only way you can guarantee a 72-hour turnaround now is a life-or-death emergency, or a limited number of other urgent circumstances.