If you were on Carnival Triumph this week and had to get home from Progresso, Mexico by air - could you?
Do you have a valid U.S. Passport?
If you are unsure of the answer to the first question, then you should read on. If your answer to the second question is no, you too should read the rest of this article. Getting home to the United States could depend on this information and your actions in response.
We have written about this several times, and we have a standing section both here on our blog and our Facebook page, which talks about International Travel. On June 1, 2009, the rules changed (New Passport Rules Starting June 1st - Are You Ready).
The new rules mandated that "most" U.S. citizens entering the country by land, sea, or air must establish both identity and citizenship and therefore must possess one of the following: passport, passport card or other travel document approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
There are many caveats contained within the new rules, so it is best to consult the following websites to learn more about your specific circumstance. The final responsibility for proper documentation rests with the traveler not the cruise line, airline, cruise specialist, or any other travel professional. You’ve planned for this trip and want to be sure you aren’t denied boarding nor do you want problems when entering or exiting any country during your trip.
State Department - overview of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - see Travel page
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – see Crossing U.S. Borders page
Canada Border Services Agency - for travel to/from Canada
The image above is the itinerary for the ill-fated Carnival Triumph voyage. The cruise was scheduled to start and end in Galveston, Texas, constituting what is known as a closed-loop cruise. If you are following our blog, you know that the ship had a small engine fire and was adrift. The first plan was to tow the ship to Progresso, Mexico, but fortunately the ship drifted making Mobile, Alabama a better choice for disembarkation.
U.S. citizens taking “closed-loop” cruises are not required to have a passport but will need proof of citizenship and a government-issued photo ID, such as an original or certified copy of a birth certificate and a driver’s license. (More information) It is still highly recommended that you travel with a valid passport.
See the Department of Homeland Security's GetYouHome.gov for more information on the changing travel requirements.
Different Rules if Traveling by Air
Soon after it was reported that Carnival Triumph would be towed to Progresso, the internet chat rooms were abuzz with questions about how passengers without passports would get home.
International air travel requires a passport and not simply a birth certificate and photo id. That means that 900 passengers currently adrift on the Triumph could have been denied re-entry to the United States at the end of this ordeal.
Explaining the change of plans from Progresso to Mobile, the line indicated:
"Given the strength of the currents, it is preferable to head north to Mobile, rather than attempt to tow against them," the statement explained. Carnival now expects Triumph to arrive in Mobile sometime on Thursday, roughly the same time the ship would have arrived in Progreso. From there, the line said it will provide the necessary transportation to get passengers home. "Mobile also provides simpler re-entry [than Mexico], particularly for the 900 passengers traveling without passports," the line added.
Carnival Cruise Line had claimed that it had the situation under control and would be able to get passengers home from Mexico. We will never know how complicated, or costly, that would have been since those plans have now been scrubbed.
If you and your family members found yourself in a situation where you had to get home from Mexico (or the Caribbean) without a passport, you would be faced with some challenges that could potentially cost you much more than the price of the initial passport fees.
If you don't have a passport, mark your calendars for March 9th.
Focusing On Family Travel
On Saturday, March 9, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., U.S. citizens may apply for or renew their passport book or passport card at any one of 25 passport agencies/centers that are open to the general public. No appointment is necessary on March 9 – normally, U.S. citizens would have to make an appointment at passport agencies. (More details)