Hurry up and wait: Edmonton passport offices backed up by rush of travelling hopefuls

When Cassie Petkus visited the Canada Place passport office in downtown Edmonton in July, getting her document to fly was a breeze. 

“I showed up, I walked directly in, and out again in probably 20 minutes,” Petkus said. “It was great.”

That’s not the case these days.

As international borders open for vaccinated Canadians, would-be travellers in Edmonton are arriving at the passport office up to two hours before it opens, then waiting in line for up to 10 hours with no guarantee of getting inside. 

“People are eating in line, visiting. I saw a couple brought cards and were playing crib,” said Petkus, who joined the line on Tuesday then again on Wednesday to renew passports for her two children ahead of a family trip to Ireland. 

Petkus is still feeling cautious about travelling during the pandemic, especially with children, but after more than 18 months of international travel restrictions — and with travel credits set to expire in the next few weeks — she was determined to get the passports in order. 

Need a passport? Prepare to wait in line

3 days ago

Edmontonians hoping to get a new passport are facing day-long lines at the Canada Place office, where officials are triaging applicants based on their date of travel. 1:44

“People are seeming pretty OK with the wait,” she said. “But if you’re travelling for something very time-sensitive, it can of course feel like you don’t have any control on the situation and you’re just at the whim of the system — and they can only see so many people in a day.”

Urgent passport services were available throughout the pandemic, but with borders closed and public health measures in place most people had little use for them. The federal government has offered an extension to renew passports that expired on or after Feb. 1, 2019.

The department’s website said it is reporting higher-than-average call volumes related to passport applications, and has urged people not to visit Service Canada unless necessary. 

“With the gradual resumption of travel and the U.S. border reopening, Service Canada is experiencing an increase in passport applications across the country,” a spokesperson from Employment and Social Development Canada said Monday in an email.

Travel confidence

With traveller confidence on the rise, the surge in demand for passports is no surprise, said Lesley Keyter, CEO and founder of The Travel Lady Agency.

“We knew 2022 is going to be crazy and lots of stuff is selling out already. So it seems to go along with that to see there’s big lineups at the passport office now,” she said.

People should make sure their passports are valid for at least the next six months even if they don’t have plans to travel, she said.

“I think there is a process where you can make your case to say you need this urgently, but it would be very difficult with the surge of applications right now and with the U.S. border opening up,” she said.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, processing times are averaging four days for an in-person application and 15 for the mail-in channel.

Jess Van Norman booked her flight to Austin, Texas, while waiting in line to secure a spot inside the passport office on Wednesday. (David Bajer/CBC)

Jess Van Norman headed to the passport office on Tuesday but was turned away from the lineup because she didn’t have a flight booked. 

“They go around and ask everyone in line what your travel date is,” Van Norman said. “And if your date is too far out, they tell you to go home and book an appointment or come back closer because there are so many people that have to travel, like, tomorrow or in the next couple of days.” 

She returned to the office the next day, this time paying for her flight to Austin, Texas, while waiting in line. She hopes the passport arrives in time so she doesn’t lose the airfare.  

“I was calling my parents to see if they would be able to cover me if I couldn’t make the flight. Luckily, they are able to,” she said. 

“I was standing next to a man who got here at 5:30 this morning, but because they keep kind of changing the requirements, even though he was here first, it sounds like he’s going to be waiting till the last.”

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