So, I thought that we were being really organised with our family summer travel plans. We decided to go to Portugal, and we booked our flights and our accommodation six months before the trip. We lined up a hire car, and I started researching things to do in Lisbon and Porto. Totally oblivious to the fact that our 13 year-old son’s passport was due to expire a few days before our flight.
This is what happened.
Our flight is booked for Sunday and I’m vaguely thinking about starting to pack. My husband arrives home from work and announces that he’s going to add our details to our flight booking and then print out our boarding passes. We usually do this the day before we travel, so I’m impressed by his forethought.
A few minutes later he says, urgently: ‘Look at this passport’.
He holds the passport out for me to see. I look at it. It’s our son’s passport, and it’s due to expire on Wednesday. I laugh, and say: ‘It’s OK, we can book an appointment at the Passport Office in London to sort it out.’
I think that it’s possible to renew a child’s passport in the space of a few hours. I know that this is an option for renewing adult passports and I assume that it’s the same process for children.
I’m an idiot.
A few minutes later, the pair of us are staring at the official Passport Office website, which tells us that the one-day renewal service is not available for children’s passports. I feel sick. The website tells us that our only option is a one-week ‘Fast-Track’ service. That’s one week from the date when you go to a passport office, in person, with the necessary forms, photos and payment. In order to do this you need to book an appointment online.
The next available appointment (excluding one at the Passport Office across the sea in Belfast) is in Peterborough, on Wednesday. Peterborough is more than 100 miles away from where we live. Wednesday is four days before our flight. We book the appointment.
While we’re doing all of this, this, our son’s stomping around anxiously, saying things like: ‘So, I can’t go on holiday then.’ Guiltily, I try to reassure him that we’re doing our best to sort it out and that we’ll definitely still have a family holiday, together, even if we have to go a few days later than planned. He’s not convinced and he’s not at all happy. I feel like the worst parent ever.
Our son and I are at our local Post Office as soon as it opens, to collect a passport application form and to get some passport photos. I fill in the form and contact a friend to countersign the photos and to verify that they’re a true likeness of our son.
I allow an hour longer than I should need for the drive to Peterborough, but the M25 is choked with traffic and I’m relieved when I arrive at the Passport Office just in time for my appointment. In the entrance lobby there’s a woman sitting on the floor, weeping. I gather that she’s been unable to book an appointment and I feel very sorry for her.
An expressionless member of staff checks my form and documents and tells me that the new passport will be delivered to our house within a week. I find that I can barely speak, but I show him a printout of our flight confirmation for Sunday and start to try to explain. He cuts me short and shakes his head. I realise that he’s heard it all before. He tells me that our booking makes no difference. Quietly, I ask if we can collect the passport, to save time, but he says that’s not possible. The passport will be printed in Liverpool and delivered to us by courier, he says. There are no deliveries on Sundays.
I feel deflated, powerless and sad.
I drive home, feeling like I’ve let down my children. I’m usually optimistic, but realistically, at the height of summer, I think that there’s no way that the passport can be processed, printed, dispatched and delivered to us by Saturday, in time for our flight on Sunday, so we’re just not going to be able to go on holiday. I tell myself that we’re lucky to be able to go on family holidays at all, and that if this one doesn’t happen, then that’s just the way that it is. But I still feel very sad.
In the evening my husband, daughter, son and I talk about what to do. I say that my husband and daughter should fly on Sunday as planned, and my son and I will join them when the passport arrives. Our daughter, who’s just 18, says that my husband and I should fly on Sunday, because we’re the ones who are most looking forward to the holiday. She says that she’ll stay at home with her brother until the passport arrives, then they can fly out to meet us. My husband says very little, as he thinks that the passport will arrive in time for our flight. Our son is adamant that we’re not going to be able to go on holiday at all.
I call the Passport Office to see how the application is progressing. I’m told that it hasn’t been looked at yet. Pleadingly, I explain that we’re due to fly on Sunday, but I’m told that there’s nothing that can be done to speed up the process.
I call the Passport Office in the morning, to be told that the application still hasn’t been looked at. Almost out of hope, I call again in the afternoon: miraculously, the application has been processed and the passport printed. I can’t believe it!
I’m told that the passport should be delivered to us by courier either tomorrow or on Monday. I find out the name of the courier company and call our nearest depot. They are very sympathetic and helpful, but they have no record yet of our passport. They tell me to call again when they open at 7am tomorrow.
In the evening our son hears that he has a place in a football team which he’s been trying out for over the summer. He’s ecstatic. He announces that he doesn’t want to come on holiday with us any more. He wants to stay at home and train with his new team instead. This is now more important to him than anything else, and he’s outraged when I explain that he’s too young to stay at home by himself, and that I’m not going to ask anyone to have him to stay for two weeks while we’re away.
I call the courier company at 7am. They have the passport and will deliver it to us today. I’m astonished and delighted. It arrives mid-morning, and I finally start to pack for the trip.
We fly to Portugal, all four of us, together, as planned.
Thank you very, very much to everyone who sent me supportive messages during this extremely stressful week. It really did help. For details of how to apply for or renew a passport, go to www.gov.uk – preferably a couple of months before you’re due to travel.