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Passport Backlog Nearly Derails Family's Dream Vacation

NORTH ATTLEBORO (CBS) -- A single mom from North Attleboro, Katie Centola, and her kids have been counting the days for their trip to Punta Cana. "We wanted to go somewhere nice, somewhere all-inclusive," she said.

The trip was booked and paid for, but a week before the July 6 flight was due to leave, Katie was in a panic because her kids' passports had not arrived from the US State Department. She warned them they would probably have to cancel. "The kids are devastated. I'm devastated," she said.

Katie thought she had sent the applications in plenty of time. "So at the time, the recommendation for regular processing was 10 – 12 weeks," she explained. She went to the post office to mail the applications on March 30. She even asked the postal clerk if she should pay the extra money to have the applications expedited.

"No, there's 14 weeks before your trip. You will get them in plenty of time," Katie remembers being told.

About a month before their travel date, Katie tried calling the State Department, dozens of times. She said she was transferred to customer service and every time would get a busy signal. "It's atrocious that there is no accountability. There's nobody even to discuss my problem with," she said. "It's very frustrating." She even contacted Senator Elizabeth Warren's office.

Katie is a recent breast cancer survivor and a nurse who worked with COVID patients during the pandemic.

She told WBZ-TV the trip was important to her family. "It's just been a long couple years," Katie said.

Her advice to anyone who is planning international travel and needs a passport: "Get everything done asap because you are going to be stuck like me, crying in your kitchen with nowhere to go."

A week before Katie's scheduled flight, she reached out to the I-Team's Call for Action and we contacted the State Department. With just a few days to spare, the passports arrived.

"We are so excited...You guys were fabulous, and I can't thank you enough and I'm going to have a margarita in your honor," Katie said laughing.

In an email a State Department spokesperson told the I-Team: "Although we have made substantial progress in reducing the number of pending applications, some customers may still experience extended delays."

According to the State Department website, routine service now takes up to 18 weeks and expedited service, which costs more, is up to 12 weeks. The State Department recommends applying for your passport six months before your travel date.

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