The State Department has removed the option to book last-minute passport appointments online as processing continues to take up to 18 weeks.
"We have temporarily removed the online last-minute appointment booking system to ensure our very limited, last-minute in-person passport appointments at one of our agencies or centers go to applicants who need them for urgent travel," the department wrote on its website. "We made this change to address the problem of third parties booking all available appointments using bots, and then selling them to applicants with urgent travel needs."
The decision comes as wait times to renew passports top 18 weeks (12 weeks for processing and up to six weeks for mailing) or 12 weeks for expedited service (up to six weeks for processing and up to six weeks for mailing). In addition to long processing times, the department is working through a backlog of between 1 and a half million and 2 million applications.
Last week, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt told reporters in a news briefing that the department was "aware" of third parties selling passport appointments and was "working to prevent them."
"The department is not affiliated with any third-party appointment booking services, and we've seen numerous instances of falsified appointment bookings through these vendors," Arndt said at the time. "And unfortunately, we may not be able to honor appointments booked via third party, so we are aware and are working to try to rectify that situation."
Last-minute, in-person appointments are available for life-or-death emergency services and urgent travel services, according to the department, including the death of an immediate family member outside the country. These appointments are free to book.
Since the department disabled the online booking system, appointments can only be scheduled by calling the National Passport Information Center (1-877-487-2778) from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET on Monday through Friday.
But the department warned: "Wait times to reach a customer service representative can be long. Last-minute in-person appointments are still extremely limited."
All appointments made using the online system on or before July 21 will still be honored as valid.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.