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Valid? Not soon-to-expire passport

April 2, 2017 GMT

It’s fun to travel with a passport because it means you’re going somewhere farther than the mall.

But just because you have a passport doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Take the story of Pam Baker.

She married a man from Spain, and each of the past 35 years they’ve traveled to Madrid to visit his family.

A couple of weeks ago, though, they got word her husband’s mother was ill and might not have long to live. So they hurriedly planned a trip and within three days were at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport ready to board a plane for Spain.

But there was a problem. When it came time for Baker to get on the plane, she was told she had to report to an office. She couldn’t get on the plane, she was told. Sure, her passport was good, but it was due to expire in May, in not quite 60 days, and that meant even though it was real and valid it was no good.

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But they were only going to be in Spain for a week, she said.

It didn’t matter. Apparently, if your passport expires in less than 90 days, or in less than six months, some countries won’t let you in. To prevent such debacles, airlines won’t let people on a plane if they are traveling out of the country with passports due to expire soon.

Baker knew her passport was close to expiring. In fact, she said that in February she called the to find out how soon she could renew it. She said she called the post office three times but never got a response and finally got a message that the mail box was full.

A number listed online as the post office’s passport office brought the same result.

Postal officials, though, say there isn’t really a passport department at post offices and the number online was bogus.

So in mid-March, Baker found herself stuck on the ground in Chicago.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” she said. “I was totally powerless.”

Baker’s husband and two adult children were able to fly. She, though, was given a ticket to fly back to Fort Wayne.

Baker said when she was passing through security in Fort Wayne to fly to Chicago, someone made a comment about how her passport would expire soon, but they said nothing about the three-month rule.

Back at O’Hare, Baker said she was told if she stayed in Chicago overnight she might be able to get some emergency travel documents and try to fly again the next day. There are companies that, for a hefty fee, can get passports processed in a day or so. Baker said she was told people do it all the time. She just came home.

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But she wonders how many people know about this rule and how many vacations get spoiled when people are told they can’t get on the airplane. That’s why she called.

The U.S. Department of State does include a warning on its website with information about passports, alerting travelers that many countries do require for entry up to six months of validity remaining on a passport.

For Baker, there was still some good news: Her husband’s mother is recovering and doing very well.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.