On a morning somewhere mid/late August 2017, preparing for my last day at work before my annual leave starts, there is a customer waiting out front for us to open the door.
9:00am rolls around, so I walk to the door, unlock it and invite him in. We take a seat at my desk.
“There’s a problem with my wife’s flight booking! I have been trying to do her check-in for her flight this evening and it wont work!”
This is not an ideal start to my last morning in the office before a three and a half week holiday.
I look into it, and discover its a simple error on the airlines website, and there is nothing to worry about. I fix it up for him, and send him on his way. Less than two minutes to fix the problem – that’s not so bad.
While looking into it, I had discovered I was actually due to fly out on that same flight – so I may as well do my own check-in while I’m at it. After nine years or so of advising my passport details to airlines and tour agencies, I’ve managed to memorise the details… Except the expiration date. That doesn’t matter though, my brother is home from work today. I call him, and ask him to go find my passport and read out the details to me. 08-Feb-2018. February. February. February. OMG! That is in five months! I need six on my passport to be able to travel!
There’s that sinking feeling again.
Thankfully, I can stay calm in situations that others might have a meltdown. One of my colleagues kept asking me “Why aren’t you crying – you are not going on this holiday!”
Well… I was obviously quite worried that I wasn’t going to get to fly out tonight. I considered my options. They are:
1. Change my flights.
2. Go to the airport as planned, and hope they wont notice (or will turn a blind eye) to the fact that I have FIVE MONTHS AND TWENTY THREE DAYS left on my passport, or;
3. Try and get a new passport issued today before my 11.30pm flight.
Okay… Option 1: My itinerary is to spend 4 nights in Ireland, before flying again over to Manchester to meet a friend for a two week holiday with her. Maybe I could delay the trip by four days, get my passport renewed, and just fly straight to Manchester. Ireland was going to be solo, so I am only inconveniencing myself. I look up the change fees, and fare difference. A rough estimation is at least $600AUD in change fees, but probably more like $700. This is a lot, but if I go with option 2 and just front up at the airport, I might get on the plane, but I might also get denied, which will then add on a $500 no-show fee, PLUS the change fees of $600-$700 and I will have lost a day which could have been spend at the passport office getting an emergency passport issued.
I settle on option 3. I have a full day, its only 9.15am, and the office is open til 5.30pm. Its in Melbourne (an hours drive away) but I’ll have to be up that way anyway if I am going to the airport. I haven’t finished packing yet though, as I was going to do it after work.
First things first – I call the passport office and make an appointment. The soonest I can get is in two days time, but I make it anyway, just in case I still need it. I ask if I can just come in and hope to get seen, and they advise me they can’t promise anything, but that its worth a shot. They advise me that I need to bring 2 x brand new passport photographs, and that I need to fill out the passport renewal form online, print it out and sign it, and to also bring any other supporting documentation to show why I need a passport urgently (e.g my flight ticket / booking confirmation).
I rush home, throw the last few bits and pieces into my bag, complete the renewal form and jump in the car. I stop at the local post office on my way to get the new passport photos, and head into Melbourne.
By the time I arrive at the Melbourne passport office, its 2pm. After waiting in line for a fairly short time, I get seen to, and sent down to counter #8. A trainee, on his first day, asks me what I need help with. I explain, as he takes my passport… and asks why I need a new one?… Am I going for 18 months?
OMG! Have I misread the expiration date?!
No – turns out he had miscalculated. A few awkward minutes goesby while he and his trainer go through the steps. A few more errors get made, which I think ends up being my saving grace…. They tell me they will do their best, and that they think I’ll have the new passport by 5pm.
They think I will…
After I agree to proceed, they charge me the $468.00 passport fee (which is made up of $282 for the passport, and $186 for the priority fee) and then cut my old passport up.
Well, I guess if I don’t get the new one issued, I wont be attempting to travel on my old one…! They say they will text me when its ready to collect, but if I don’t get one, just come back before 5pm.
4:55pm rolls around and I haven’t heard. I head back, dreading the outcome. All I can think about while climbing those steps is the money changing my flights is going to cost me. I have been shaking with nerves all day. Even if I don’t get the passport, I can’t wait to know the outcome so I can have some relief.
The supervisor sees me and beckons me over. As I approach, she smiles at me. Then the new guy smiles at me. He has an envelope in his hand.
OMG I HAVE A NEW PASSPORT!!! I cannot believe I am so lucky! Priority passports can still take 4-5 days (depending on demand I guess) I am so lucky!!!
I walk out, call Rowan (my boyfriend) who is on a train, on his way in to Melbourne to meet me, so he can take my car home from the airport.
It couldn’t have worked out any better. I have some seriously good karma that’s for sure.
We go out for dinner, somewhere near the airport and Rowan buys me the biggest glass of wine they serve (literally a magnum sized glass with a double pour) and then we head off to the airport for him to drop me off and take my car home.
While in line checking in, I feel nothing but relief. I am so relaxed (I had a second glass of wine that’s probably why!).
Its my turn to go up to the counter. I happily hand over my shiny new passport, and wait to be issued my boarding pass. There is a problem. My passport is so new, it isn’t in some sort of database that she is checking. Will this emotional roller coaster ever end??
I explain that I have come straight from the passport office, and it was only issued at 5pm, and I had to get a new one, because my old one only had 5 months and 23 days left on it, not the required minimum of 6 months. Then… The bombshell…
“You don’t need 6 months validity on your passport to fly to Ireland”…
Are you serious??? Was this stressful nightmare of a day all for nothing? I guess I’ll never know what would have happened if I showed up with my old passport… Especially if I was oblivious to the rule in the first place.
While in the line for customs, I check the site smartraveller which clearly states “make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia” so I guess it just depends on who you ask.
My next post is going to be an easy step-by-step guide on what to do if you are caught in this predicament. It will be up within the next few days.
Have you been in a similar situation? I’d love to know if others have traveled on their passport with a closer expiration date than 5 months and what happened.
Please share your stories with me, or let me know; what would you have done if this was you?