Cruisers had been facing a deadline of Jan. 8, 2007, and lines were concerned that confusion over the new requirement plus the cost of obtaining a passport would hurt the short-cruise business in particular.
Congress on Friday passed the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, which contains a provision known as the Stevens-Leahy Amendment. The rider extends the implementation date for a passport or other accepted identification document under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative until the U.S. can develop a plan that meets standards for the new identification cards to make them easy to use, affordable and ensure privacy, or by June 1, 2009, whichever is earlier.
A PASScard, the economical alternative to the passport, will be available for sea and land borders. Passports for air travel will still be required starting this January.
'The cruise industry applauds Congress' efforts to increase security at our borders but to do so reasonably,' said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines. 'We will continue to work with the government to raise awareness of the requirements and encourage the traveling public to secure proper identification.'
Crye told Seatrade Insider the passport extension will have the biggest impact on the short-cruise market, where a high percentage of travelers are going abroad for the first time and where the price of a passport can balloon the cost of a quick getaway.
Although the proposed PASScard is not finalized, a price of $50 is being discussed - half the cost of a passport for an adult. The document would be valid for five years, while a passport is valid for 10 years for adults and five years for children.
Since passports will become mandatory for air travel as of Jan. 8, passengers who fly in conjunction with their cruise will still need to present a passport. 'So it's still going to be a fairly confusing thing,' Crye said.
In part because it would alleviate confusion, ICCL has lobbied long and hard for a uniform deadline for passports for air, sea and land travel throughout the hemisphere. Although that will not be the case, the bill passed by Congress 'provides a more reasonable timeline' than the earlier Jan. 8 proposal for sea and land borders, Crye said. 'It will still be helpful, particularly to people who are taking short cruises and to people who are cruising with kids.'
He added: 'We're still going to be urging people to go out and get their passports.'