Passport application delays tamed

After months of near-paralysis and a long climb from a deep backlog, the U.S. State Department said its passport operations are nearing normal. Americans “can now apply for routine service and expect to receive a passport in 10-12 weeks,” the agency said this week.

“You also have the option of paying an additional $60 for expedited service to receive your passport in 4-6 weeks,” it added.

This marks a dramatic improvement over previous months, when the agency declined to estimate processing times and officials said they could prioritize only “life-or-death” requests.

These new processing-time estimates apply to mail applications and those submitted in person “at an acceptance facility in your community,” officials said in a release Monday.

Many post offices, public libraries and court clerks serve as acceptance facilities; the State Department maintains a passport acceptance facility search page. Federal officials recommend that people apply by mail rather than in person to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.

When the pandemic erupted in North America in March, federal officials shut most passport functions, and many offices were closed for months. Because of the security issues involved, workers couldn’t process passport applications or renewals at home. Now officials say their agencies and centers are again processing passport applications at varying rates.

‘Flight to Nowhere’ a popular notion

The “Flight to Nowhere” is becoming a phenomenon.

The idea of getting on a plane with no destination, flying for several hours, and then returning to the same airport is gaining traction worldwide. In fact, Australia’s Qantas Airlines recently offered such a flight and it sold out in 10 minutes.

Qantas, Taiwan’s EVA, Singapore Airlines and Japan’s ANA have all either run flights to nowhere or are about to.

For Qantas, the flight that left Sydney was “probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history,” the airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, said in a statement. “People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open.”

But the concept of the flight to nowhere hasn’t quite taken off in the United States yet. Maybe it should.

According to a new poll from Harris, almost two-thirds of Americans say they would be interested in taking a sightseeing flight, or flight to nowhere. Those who say they are interested have their reasons. They are:

• We all need a moment of escape (53%).

• It would feel like a mini-vacation (52%).

• I need a change of scenery (44%).

• Satisfy my itch to travel (38%).

• I miss flying (28%).

• To offset my cabin fever (22%).

• To create a sense of normalcy (21%).

LAX rolls out no-contact ordering, pick-up

Travelers passing through Los Angeles International Airport can now conveniently order, pay for and pick up food and beverages from their favorite restaurants via their mobile device through the newly expanded LAXOrderNow.com.

The collaboration between Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Airports (URW Airports) and Grab allows users to search, browse and order food and nonalcoholic beverages from a handful of participating restaurants throughout the airport. Travelers can also pick up their order while avoiding physical contact with other people, a key feature in the time of COVID-19.

Currently, there are more than 20 food and beverage locations on the platform.

Universal details VelociCoaster thrill ride

ORLANDO, Fla. — Universal Orlando has unveiled new facts about its Jurassic World VelociCoaster ride, which is scheduled to open at Islands of Adventure theme park in the summer of 2021. They include numbers (up to 70 mph) and celebrity power (Chris Pratt and other movie stars).

The new roller coaster, which the company officially acknowledged and identified Friday evening, will feature an original storyline about Jurassic World’s “carnivore explosion.”

On the VelociCoaster “riders embark on a high-speed chase and feel the rush of the hunt while racing alongside a nimble Velociraptor pack,” according to a Universal news release on Monday. It also mentions original movie cast members Bryce Dallas Howard, B.D. Wong and Pratt.

Central American nation reopens

Officials in Panama announced the Central American country would reopen its borders to international visitors from all countries on Oct. 12.

The Panama Tourism Authority worked closely with the Ministry of Health and other government authorities to implement strategic health protocols designed to keep visitors and local communities safe during the reopening process. As part of the reopening plan, all incoming travelers are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test, which must be taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival. If the test was taken over 48 hours before travel, passengers would be required to take a rapid test at the airport prior to customs and are responsible for the cost (around $30).

From news services