WASHINGTON—The travel industry is pressing the Bush administration to delay a security measure that would require all cruise passengers and air travelers taking trips beyond U.S. borders to carry passports starting Jan. 8.
The measure—part of a larger federal anti-terrorism effort—eventually would require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda to have a passport or "other accepted document" to enter or re-enter the United States.
The proposal, which has been published in the Federal Register and is under review, would be phased in over two years. But Travel Industry Association President Roger Dow said Thursday that the cruise industry, in particular, was ill-equipped to meet the proposed 2007 target date because few people who booked cruises had passports.
The requirement would be imposed on airline passengers at the same time, but Dow said the airlines began asking travelers to Canada and Mexico for passports several years ago. He noted that many air travelers, unlike occasional cruise-line passengers, already carry passports.
"We're concerned about the potential for chaos" in the cruise industry, Dow said, adding that the industry is asking the administration for a "modest extension" to June 2009.
The requirement for passports would be extended to land border crossings with Canada and Mexico in January 2008. Travel experts fear that it could put a damper on travel from Canada, which is the United States' largest international travel market.
The industry also is pressing its case with Congress, and measures calling for a delay have advanced in the Senate, sponsored by Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who warned that federal agencies are ill-prepared to carry out the program. A spokesman for Leahy said a 17-month delay was contained in two spending bills and that there was no known opposition to postponing the requirement in the House of Representatives or the Senate.
"Momentum has been building since the effort began," David Carle said.
Leahy has warned that the effort could cause "major disruptions in commerce, tourism and travel," particularly in Canada, because Canadians now can cross the border with only driver's licenses.
The industry says the delay also would give the United States time to develop a "passport card," a driver's-license type of identification that the government says would be less expensive than a $100 passport but would require the same identification to secure.
The Department of Homeland Security didn't return phone calls asking for comment, but Rick Webster of the Travel Industry Association said the group thought it was "pretty clear" that the administration wouldn't ask for a delay in carrying out the changes.
As it waits for a final determination, the cruise industry is recommending that passengers who plan to set sail after Jan. 1 apply for passports.
"Assuming the rules will go into effect is the only safe and practical way to proceed," said Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines.
The passport requirement is spelled out on the cruise line's Web site under "frequently asked questions," with the warning that "guests without the required documentation will be denied boarding and no refund will be issued.
"Please understand that Carnival will strictly enforce this requirement to be in compliance with this important U.S. government mandate."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map