Some passport offices in Maine are seeing an uptick in people seeking official travel identification documents amid growing concern about the state’s lack of compliance with the federal Real ID law.

The increase comes as the U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that it now takes six to eight weeks to get a routine passport, up from four to six weeks previously, said Mary Perry, passport program manager at South Portland City Hall.

Mainers don’t need Real IDs yet to board commercial flights, but some regular travelers and others are getting passports now because they’ve already run into problems with current Maine identification cards or they want to avoid future travel complications, Perry said.

“We’re very quick to let them know that the Real ID starts in January 2018 for commercial flights, but some federal buildings are requiring it now,” Perry said Thursday.

Perry believes the waiting period for passports will grow exponentially if the Legislature doesn’t act and more Mainers are forced to apply for passports later this year.

South Portland City Hall is one of 66 passport acceptance facilities located in municipal and county offices, libraries and post offices across Maine. Many require applicants to schedule appointments in advance and have limited hours.

The State Department’s announcement confirms reports last year that anticipated a surge in passport applications and longer waits starting in 2017 and running through 2018. Authorities predicted the increase because many passports are up for renewal; more Americans can afford to travel overseas because the economy has improved and airfares are cheaper; and there’s growing concern and confusion over the Real ID law.

Under the Real ID law, Maine driver’s licenses and identification cards are no longer accepted for entry into certain federal buildings and military bases. And starting in January, Maine IDs will no longer be accepted for travel on commercial flights.

Passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Real ID law established minimum security standards for state-issued identification cards, including driver’s licenses, and required states to share the information in a national database.

Maine subsequently passed a law prohibiting compliance with the Real ID law, and it remains one of four states that have been deemed out of compliance, though many other states have been granted extensions. A bill now before the Legislature, L.D. 306, would repeal the state law that prohibits Maine from complying with the Real ID requirements.

But some Mainers aren’t waiting for the Legislature to act.

“I’ve had a few people mention that they’re getting a passport now because they know the Maine ID won’t be valid,” said Christina Fernald, a municipal payroll specialist who processes passport applications at South Portland City Hall. The State Department pays passport agents $25 per application.

One woman told Fernald that she wanted a passport because her Maine identification recently invalidated her Pre-Check pass, which the Transportation Security Administration issues to frequent fliers who have been pre-screened. Without a Real ID or a valid passport, the woman had to go through a more extensive screening before boarding her domestic flight.

The passport office at Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland has been busy lately, too. Like South Portland, some of the activity is related to people just going on vacation, said Carolyn Currie, a librarian and passport agent. But more applicants are uncertain about the future validity of state identification cards, she said.

“I think we’ve seen an increase,” Currie said. “We’ve also seen more people getting the passport booklet and the passport card.”

About the size of a driver’s license, a passport card is a fully valid passport for the purposes of travel to destinations contiguous to the United States, namely Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. However, the State Department recommends carrying both the passport card and the passport booklet in case of an emergency, because the passport card is not valid for international air travel.

The card is also less expensive – $30 for a person age 16 or older, compared with $110 for the booklet. Both are valid for 10 years. An expedited application, which takes two to three weeks, costs an additional $99 for an individual passport booklet, including overnight mail, Perry said.

“I always recommend that people bring both,” Perry said. “But if you’re going to get on a plane and leave the country, you need the booklet.”

Carmensol Kesselhaut, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, was at South Portland City Hall on Thursday with her 15-year-old son, Maximo. Their family of four is traveling to Spain in June and Maximo needed to renew his youth passport for the third time.

“We all have passports, so not having a Real ID isn’t going to be a hassle for our family,” Kesselhaut said. “But I definitely think the Legislature should do something about it.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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