The Department of State, looking to practice a little domestic diplomacy ahead of the inevitable summer passport crunch, is hoping to ease your passport anxieties on Saturday.
Officials have set aside that date as Passport Day USA. When it arrives, officials in 23 regional passport offices nationwide will take walk-up applicants for passport books, passport cards or both. Many smaller passport "acceptance facilities" (including many city halls) will participate as well.
A half-dozen of these sites are in the Pittsburgh region (see list).
The move is a departure from standard procedures. Regional offices usually don't do passport business on weekends, and they usually require travelers to either make appointments or mail off passport applications and renewal paperwork, unless travelers are scheduled to leave the country within a few weeks.
Instead of that lengthier process, staffers on Saturday will take customers without appointments. Customers can request routine or (for $60 more) expedited service in getting a new or renewed passport.
The cost varies from $35 (for travelers under age 16 who need a passport card and aren't in a hurry) to $160 (for travelers 16 or older who need a passport book and are willing to pay for expedited service).
For information on participating locations or details about the identification that travelers need when applying for a passport, or just about anything else you might wonder about passports, try this government website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/.
By the way, you probably shouldn't get too attached to the current passport prices. The State Department is hoping to boost fees soon.
Typically, the agency says, passports take four to six weeks to issue, or two to three weeks with expedited service.
Passport officials say they've set up the March 27 event as a tool for telling people how the world of passports has changed in the past few years.
• The passport book, that familiar blue-covered document that travelers abroad have been carrying for years, is now required of all U.S. citizens traveling internationally by air.
(Before June 2009, some international travel did not require a passport.)
• The U.S. passport card, created in 2008, is cheaper, fits in a wallet and can be used instead of a passport book if you're age 16 or older and entering the U.S. by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda. Just remember: You can't use the card if you're flying.
For more information, call the National Passport Information Center toll-free at 1-877-487-2778.
At the first Passport Day last year, federal officials said they collected more than 57,000 passport applications.