Going Nowhere

New passport regulations take effect tomorrow -- and Bob Orr has some advice for travelers.
If you are a passport procrastinator, take a seat, because you aren't going anywhere. Technically, you may be able to "go", but don't count on getting home.

Beginning tomorrow, January 23, virtually all travelers flying into the United States from countries within the Western Hemisphere will be required to show a passport. A driver's license or birth certificate will no longer be enough to allow a vacationer or Spring- Breaker to fly home from Cancun, Bermuda, or even Toronto.

It's the latest security shoe to drop in our post 9/11 world, and it's likely to fall on some travelers' toes.

The government has been warning for months that the passport deadline was looming. It seems many travelers have heeded the alert – the State Department says more than two million new passports were processed in November and December, almost twice as many as the last two months of 2005. And a recent survey of returning US travelers found 94% were already flashing passports instead of other IDs.

But, undoubtedly, some people will be caught short tomorrow at immigration points. The Miami airport comes to mind.

Now the government is not planning to build any holding pens to detain the scofflaws. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security says Immigration and Customs authorities will have discretion in enforcing the new passport rule. Most likely, a non-passport carrying returnee will simply have to undergo more extensive secondary screening as punishment for missing the deadline.

But, officials say patience at the international airports will not be open-ended, and offenders should not expect to get a "third chance" in the future.

As for those of you who prefer to stay grounded and don't fly, well don't get too comfortable. The new passport requirement is coming to a land border crossing or seaport near you next year.