CHICAGO – Thirteen-year-old Eli Rogatz applied months ago for a passport so that he could fly to Israel with his family for his bar mitzvah. To his family's great relief, it finally came through on Friday, with just days to spare. "Given what else is being spent, we want to make sure he's there," Mitch Rogatz, a book publisher from the Chicago suburb of Glencoe, grumbled as he camped out in a federal office building for at least four hours, waiting for the passport.
Similar waiting games are being played out at passport processing sites across the country as the State Department wades through an unprecedented crush of passport applications. They are pouring in at more than 1 million per month.
Passport requests usually shoot up this time of year ahead of the busy spring and summer travel season. But the department has been really swamped since the government in late January started requiring U.S. airline passengers — including children — to show a passport upon their return from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean.
Passport applications filed between October and March are up 44 percent from the same period a year ago, the department told lawmakers this week. In February alone, applications were up 25 percent.
Because of the glut, it could take 10 weeks instead of the usual six to process routine applications, according to the department. And expedited requests, which cost an extra $60 on top of the normal $97 fee, could take four weeks instead of two.
The State Department said it is working overtime to handle the load and hopes to have an additional 400 passport adjudicators by the end of next year.
That is little solace to travelers like Lisa Purdum, a newlywed from Yardley, Pa., who was told her husband's passport would not arrive until weeks after their planned April 2 honeymoon to Mexico. Worse, her birth certificate, which accompanied her own passport application, was reported missing, she said.
She was one of dozens of people waiting in a line that spilled into the lobby in Philadelphia's regional passport office Friday.
"My husband's is a month behind and mine is missing altogether and our honeymoon is in two weeks, and I'm either losing half my money or all of my money," she said.
People who had not received their passports two weeks before their trips were generally told to go to one of 14 big-city passport offices across the country. There, they were mostly confronted with long lines and no guarantee they would leave with a passport.
Jackie Moore drove overnight from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, hoping to pick up a passport for her 8-year-old grandson. The family had a 6 a.m. flight Saturday for a vacation in the Dominican Republic, and the boy was the only one whose passport had not arrived.
"My little grandson is going to be heartbroken if we don't get him on this plane," she said.
The line curled around the block outside the passport office in downtown Miami, where 29-year-old Qandeel Sakrani stood with her husband and their two young daughters, hoping to get a passport so she could travel to Pakistan next month.
"I haven't seen my parents in 18 months, and I haven't seen the rest of my family for five years," she said.
Lawndale, Calif., accountant Emilia Moreno sent in an application to renew her passport four weeks ago, only to discover there were no records it ever got there. The 48-year-old woman spent most of the week fighting for an appointment with the passport agency in Los Angeles so she would be able to travel to Italy and France for vacation on Wednesday.
"My employer already told me she's going to buy me a pizza, for me to think that I'm in Italy," she said.
For others, it may already be too late.
Judith Jones was supposed to fly to Jamaica on Friday for a vacation with friends. Instead, she spent a second day in line in Chicago, trying to track down her passport.
"It's supposed to be a girls' trip. The girls are there, but I'm not yet," said the 41-year-old from Griffith, Ind.
About 12 million passport applications were processed in 2006, and as many as 17 million are expected this year, according to the State Department said. Some 74 million Americans have valid passports.