By DAVID ARMSTRONG
San Francisco Chronicle
December 15, 2006
To help clear the air for airline passengers, the Travel Industry Association of America and Travel Business Roundtable have put up a how-to Web site (getapassportnow.com).
The Web site provides background to Americans on the new regulations and details of how and where to get a passport and how to expedite processing of a passport application when time is short. The site also includes links for Canadian and Mexican citizens who will need to carry passports from their countries to enter the United States by air starting Jan. 23.
Traditionally, Americans, Canadians and Mexicans have been exempt from the passport rule, with driver's licenses or birth certificates being sufficient. But that is about to change.
The new requirements for air travelers, which will be extended to travelers entering this country by land and sea by June 1, 2009 - are part of the Department of Homeland Security's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The policy, one of a number of broad anti-terrorist measures, is designed to tighten security at U.S. borders.
Widespread public confusion still lingers about when and how the regulations will be implemented. With 73 percent of Americans still not carrying passports, the creation of GetAPassportNow.com was necessary, travel industry executives say.
"We don't want anyone to be surprised by the new requirements," Travel Industry Association President Roger Dow said in a statement this week announcing the Web site. "No one's vacation or business trip should be ruined because they didn't know they needed a passport."
The travel association and other industry groups opposed the regulations and campaigned successfully to have passport requirements for air passengers postponed from Jan. 1 - when they would have affected holiday travelers - until Jan. 23.
Just what penalties will be enforced and when is still unclear. "For those not carrying a passport after the Jan. 23 deadline, there will be a penalty involved in the form of a fine. However, the government has not yet defined what the fine will be or when it will be enforced," said Cathy Keefe, a travel association spokeswoman.
Keefe said it's possible there might be a grace period. "But there's no guarantee, which is why the industry is making an all-out push to ensure that travelers get their passport as soon as possible." An adult's passport is $97, while a child's is $82. They can be expedited for an additional fee.
Travel and international trade groups have generally feared the new regulations would be intrusive, especially when they are extended to casual vacationers who cross the borders with Canada and Mexico by land and truckers who carry cargo to and from the United States and this country's near neighbors. Overland trade between the United States and Canada totals more than $1 billion a day, the most robust bilateral trade between any two nations.
On the Web:
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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