I apologize for my delay in posting information from my 2006 Yap search trip. We returned to the US on September 29 after a 2 ½ week trip to Yap Island. This year’s trip was very successful for a number of reasons which I’ll mention in updates over the next few days and weeks, however, I’ll start by mentioning an issue that started the morning before we departed as I tried to print our boarding passes for the trip….
I was all ready for my final day in the office at Pearson AGS Globe when I sat down that morning, cup of coffee in hand, to print our boarding passes. We were all packed and ready to leave the house at 2 am on Sept 13, however, when I tried to print my boarding pass I received a disturbing message that my passport was not valid and that I needed to check with the airline at the airport. I knew that my passport was going to expire in January 2007 so I thought it would be just fine for this trip. I had been so busy at my real job this year that I did not get around to renewing my passport like my wife did last year. The next step was to call Continental Airlines and was promptly advised that I would not be able to board the flight until I had a renewed passport. My passport had to be valid 120 days beyond my stay on Yap. Not cool. I started calling express passport services and could only find a 2-4 day service. I even found the home phone number for the manager of an express passport service to explain my story and beg for a passport by 3 am. The manager advised that his service would be able to get me a passport within 24-48 hours but I would likely have to reschedule my trip and wait for a few days. By this time I was flipping out (that’s putting it mildly) about missing the start of my long awaited search trip. I was also concerned about the seven people from two other families who planned to join us in Honolulu and travel with us to Yap. The manager advised me that I had one option – to appear in person at one of the federal passport offices conveniently located in Chicago, New York, Houston, or Seattle and see if they would accept a walk-in renewal. The regional passport offices only accept appointments through a phone system. He said this path was highly unlikely but I could give it a try if I wanted. I called the passport appointment automated service and found the next available appointment was in 2-3 weeks.
The weather in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois was stormy that day so I knew I could not fly our little Cessna 152 to Chicago therefore, my wife (Cherie) called our friend and savior Harlan Pygman and ask if he was available to fly me to Chicago in a crazy attempt to renew my passport that day and save our trip. I was absolutely thrilled to hear that Harlan was willing to jump out of bed and fly up to my airport to pick me up and rush me to Chicago in a Piper Mirage that he flies professionally. Harlan rushed up to meet me. Meanwhile I barked out a list of to-do items for my wife as I ran around the house like Cujo trying to grab things I would need for a rush trip to Chicago. I was not very optimistic that I had any chance to salvage our trip and considered the trip to Chicago a shot in the dark. I asked my wife to call my office and cancel an entire day of meetings which I scheduled to help me close out my office before leaving on a 2 ½ week trip. I grabbed the passport application that my wife had quickly filled out and jumped in my car to run and get a passport picture taken before meeting Harlan at the airport. On the way to the airport I called information and was connected with Senator Coleman’s office in St. Paul. I was fortunate to be connected with someone who remembered my name and Missing Air Crew Project from a letter I had sent the Senator as well as a few newspaper articles that had run in the local papers. The Coleman staff member right away understood the situation I was in and started making calls to the federal passport office in Chicago. She informed the passport office that I would be arriving in a few hours and sent a fax requesting them to renew my passport the same day without an appointment. I felt better knowing the ball was hopefully already rolling. I arrived at the airport and jumped in Harlan’s plane for the flight in stormy weather down to Chicago. Usually I love flying but all I could think about on this flight was that my second search trip might be ruined because I was too busy to renew my passport.
We arrived to Chicago in a thunderstorm with limited visibility to land. We had an interesting IFR approach to the Pauwaukee airport north of Chicago. Harlan took a break to rest at the airport jet center while I jumped into a cab and raced off to downtown Chicago to visit the federal building. I could not believe I was in a cab heading into Chicago when a few hours before I was getting ready to wind down my final day in the office prior to my trip. I arrived in downtown Chicago after a 45 minute taxi ride and located the federal building. Once I was in the passport office it took them a short time to locate the fax from Senator Coleman’s office and my fears of the trip unfolding came rushing back to me. After a brief problem locating the fax I was allowed to renew my passport and was told to come back to the building in two hours. I went out for a nervous lunch and returned after two hours. My name was called and I approached the window (visualize the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld) to receive my much desired passport, however, when I proofed the passport I noticed my wife’s birth date was on the passport, not mine. I nervously handed the passport back to the woman at the counter after briefly contemplating running out of the office and taking my chances on a passport with the wrong birth date. When I handed the passport back I was advised that I filled my application out wrong so I could not get my passport that day. My wife in a frenzied panic had accidentally put her birth date on the application as I was running around the house that morning. I once again felt my trip spiraling down the toilet and pleaded my case to the women behind the counter with a watchful eye on all the armed guards in the office that were now looking my way. I knew that I would be hauled out of the office if I raised my voice or pleaded to hard. After a brief huddle by the passport staff they agreed to fix my passport and I waited another hour. My long awaited passport arrived and, once again, with baited breath I inspected it for errors and after finding none almost skipped out of the passport office with my renewed passport in hand.
I had to make the reverse trip back out of Chicago and over to the airport to meet Harlan who had so kindly donated his entire day to helping me renew my passport. We jumped back in the plane and spent the next hour dodging thunderstorms the entire flight home to Minnesota. We arrived home around 7 pm and I then went into my office for a few hours to finish last minute items that I had missed during this unexpected adventure. After a day in hell I had completed my passport renewal and we were once again scheduled to leave for Yap at 2 am! My trip was back on track after a surreal day of events.
I can’t thank Harlan and Senator Coleman’s office enough for helping me renew my passport. Without their help my trip would have been delayed by a number of days and the success we enjoyed would have been limited. Once again, THANK YOU!!!! The big lesson that I can share with others is (1) renew your passports early and (2) don’t assume a passport is still valid even if it has time remaining. New rules since 9/11 force airlines to make sure passports are valid 120 days or even 6 months from the completion of anyone’s trip. What a way to get ready for a trip I had been planning for months!
More about my Sept 2006 Yap search trip in my next update.
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