A wedding photographer who waited two months for the passport she needed for crucial work abroad has been told she can finally get it – 300 miles away and just three hours before her flight departs .
Zara Malone risked losing thousands – and dropping a happy couple – if she couldn’t make it to the south of France in time for their wedding.
Although she sent her application to the London passport office in April, she was only told it was being processed nearly 300 miles away in Durham, northeast England, the day before of his trip.
The 37-year-old was forced to spend £400 and travel 600 miles from London to Durham and back to collect her passport so she could finally travel abroad again.
She took an overnight train to the cathedral city and arrived outside the passport office at 5:40 a.m.
Zara Malone traveled 600 miles to get her new passport in time for her trip to France. She had planned to photograph a wedding when she was thrown into the chaos of the trip
Zara had to go to the passport office in Durham (pictured) to collect her fast-track application just hours before she was due to board her flight She took an overnight train into town from her home in London
After paying £100 to have her application ‘fast tracked’, she had to wait until 4pm to be able to collect it. But there was not enough time to return to make his flight from Gatwick to Toulouse at 6 p.m. last night.
Zara has now booked a new flight to leave Gatwick on Friday and still be there for this weekend – as long as there are no further incidents.
“I was exhausted but so relieved to have gotten my passport. I put it in my pocket and was terrified that I would lose it or have it stolen,” she said.
“It’s just been a nightmare trying to deal with the passport office as they keep changing their messages. It really is a hopeless situation.
“I had sent so many emails and called them but they always told me not to worry because I would get the passport in time.”
Zara, of Crystal Palace, south-east London, sent in her application with the £77 fee in April.
She had wanted the new passport to travel to France, where she photographs most of her weddings, from the first week of June.
After applying, Zara quickly discovered that she was among nearly 500,000 people waiting for a new passport.
More than 5 million people have delayed their passport applications due to the pandemic, leading to increased wait times that have forced many people to cancel vacations.
Despite repeated calls and emails to the Passport Office, she was told it would be issued on time.
But when her first booked job abroad – a wedding in St Tropez in France in early June – arrived, she still hadn’t heard back and was therefore reluctantly forced to cancel.
So when told the application was in Durham with her second overseas job looming, she took matters into her own hands.
She said: “With Covid and most weddings canceled it has been a difficult time. I had a hard time, and things just got better.
‘I specialize in weddings for British couples in France. I had a reservation in St Tropez but had to cancel as I did not receive my passport in time.
The wedding photographer found out she was among nearly 500,000 people waiting for a new passport
“I felt sick letting the couple down. I had never called off a wedding before and was able to find a replacement photographer because I just felt like I wasn’t going to make it.
“There was also damage to my reputation. I felt horrible.
“I had another booking this week in Toulouse and I was determined to make it.
The passport office seems to move the goal posts all the time, and I kept getting assurances that it would be issued in time for my trip.
Zara was told her flight was within 24 hours she could collect the passport – but was stunned to find it was in Durham.
She said: ‘I took the overnight train to Durham and arrived at 5.30am. I went straight to the passport office and there was already a long line.
“Some people in the queue told me they had been waiting for months for their passports.”
After paying £100 to expedite her application, Zara was told she had to wait for an email notification that the new blue passport was ready for collection.
Fortunately, she was called back to pick it up shortly before the office closed for the day.
To celebrate, she took a “selfie” with the passport with Durham Castle in the background.
“When I collected the passport, I realized it was at the same time that I should have checked in for my flight to France.
NIGHTMARE PASSPORT TIMELINE
Monday June 13: 7:00 a.m. arrival at the London Passport Office
4:00 p.m.: Leave the Passport Office after being instructed to collect in Durham
11 p.m.: Overnight stay in Durham
Tuesday, June 14: 5:30 a.m. Arrive at Durham Passport Office
4 p.m.: collection of the passport
6 p.m.: missed easyJet flight to Toulouse
7 p.m.: Depart Durham
10 p.m.: arrival in London
Friday June 17: Departure for Toulouse for wedding
“I managed to book a new flight so I could do the wedding at the weekend, but it was touch and go.
“With train fares it cost me over £400 and I had an exhausting journey.”
“It’s not the best preparation for a wedding, but I didn’t want to let anyone else down.” Most of the weddings I have to cover over the summer are those that have been postponed during Covid. ‘
The huge backlog of passport applications has forced many families to cancel vacations, fearing things will get worse this summer.
In April, applicants were told there was a five-week deadline, but the passport office later extended that deadline to 10 weeks.
A Passport Office spokesperson said: ‘Since April 2021 we have made it clear that people should allow up to 10 weeks when applying for a passport to account for the increase in demand, which has seen 5 million people delay their passport application due to the pandemic.
“The latest figures show that 90% was completed in six weeks. But we cannot compromise security checks and people should apply well in advance before travelling.
Last month, it was claimed that 700 additional staff would be recruited to tackle the “chaos” at the Passport Office.
Holidaymakers have become furious after being forced to miss family events and holidays.
Home Secretary Tom Pursglove said passport offices across the country will be bolstered with new staff “by the summer” in a bid to quickly process millions of outstanding passport applications.
Travelers continue to vent their fury at the Passport Office, which faces a huge backlog of more than 500,000 passport applications.
The backlog was blamed on a sudden surge in demand for new passports after a lull in the two years of Covid-imposed travel restrictions.
EU post-Brexit travel rules have further complicated matters as they require UK travelers to have at least three months of validity remaining when traveling to EU member countries.
The government expects 9.5 million UK passport applications to be processed in 2022, nearly double the number processed last year.
Zara says her reputation was tarnished after she was forced to cancel a wedding in Saint-Tropez in June. She was determined that her passport issues wouldn’t allow her to cancel more work
A further 700 staff will be mobilized to tackle the passport office ‘chaos’ that has left frustrated holidaymakers missing out on family events and getaways. Pictured: Long queues outside the HMP passport office in Liverpool in April