With air travel slowly recovering from a pandemic-related slump, the Burbank city clerk’s office says it has been flooded by requests from patrons looking to renew their passports or apply for new ones.
City Clerk Zizette Mullins explained that while the local passport application program has always attracted interest, people lined up around Burbank City Hall once it became one of the few facilities still offering the service as COVID-19 raged. Those lines died down as walk-ins were replaced with additional appointment slots, she said, but municipal staff members are still processing hundreds of applications a month, a step preceding the U.S. government’s issuance of passports.
In May, the city clerk’s office processed about 1,770 passport applications, according to Mullins. In July 2020, a month after City Hall reopened, it processed only 662.
“It’s so rewarding, I have to say,” Mullins said. “Not only for myself, but the staff, knowing that it helps someone wanting to travel, wanting to see their grandmother.”
And the rush of applications has also increased the program’s revenue. Mullins said her office would normally take in $25,000 to $28,000 through passport application fees during a good month. The amount has since increased to as much as $83,000 a month.
Demand for the passport service grew especially after the vaccines started being rolled out in January. Airport travel, which Mullins believes could be the reason for many applications, has picked up as well. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration recorded nearly 50 million air travelers in May 2021, compared with just over 7.3 million in May 2020.
Mullins decided that the office would start accepting walk-ins as well as appointments for the program.
That policy went poorly, she said. The office’s two full-time passport agents were seeing those with appointments every 15 minutes, but with the deluge of walk-ins, visitors couldn’t be guaranteed they’d be seen. And some of those visitors, Mullins explained, had traveled as long as 1½ hours and gotten in line at 3 a.m. for a chance to get their applications processed.
“For three months, it [felt] like a primary business,” she said.
The clerk’s office eventually stopped taking walk-ins and instead doubled its number of appointment slots, ensuring that workers would be able to see everyone who got an appointment.
That approach has appeared to make the process more orderly, Mullins explained. An intake clerk is present in the central floor of City Hall, and four part-time agents work to process applications. The office is also looking to hire additional staff members by the end of the month to allow its full-time workers to focus on their other duties.
A line can still often be seen stretching from the passport applications room, but it now remains inside City Hall rather than wrapping around the building. North Hollywood residents Alex Pauley and Chaz Roman recently visited the facility to submit their applications, saying the process felt fairly smooth.
“We don’t have a specific trip planned, but … the pandemic was a big [reason],” Roman said. “We want to be able to leave if we need to.”
Mullins emphasized that processing applications can take some time, and involves sending files to other centers. But when things go wrong, she noted, patrons often blame city staff members.
“I want everyone to know that staff is doing their best to get as many people processed [as possible],” she added. “They’re very dedicated to provide really excellent customer service. … We know it’s important for [patrons] to have their passport.”