My wife calls me sad and way too technical at times, but I helped solve a huge family headache for us using the same approach I use to help my customers. I'm crap round the house, get people in to do almost everything - this was my chance to help!
In the last few months my family have been caught in a huge national backlog for new passports. Two of our our children's passports expired during lockdown, so we waited until we needed (3 months) them before renewing. We soon discovered that on both sides of the Irish channel, passport offices are overwhelmed due to everyone having the same idea as ourselves. 12-14 weeks on the Irish side, 10 weeks on the UK.
Those in the same position, know that the UK Passport hold a lottery for premium appointments once per day. The times are pot luck and random, it means humans like us have to keep refreshing their website over and over to grab one of the very few appointments anywhere in the UK. We managed to grab an appointment, in Glasgow, here is how:
To grab an appointment with the passport office in person, to increase your chances of processing your passport quicker, you need to open this url: https://www.passport.service.gov.uk/urgent/. The normal response is the following:
So this got me thinking, I do this all the time with my customers when monitoring content or warnings from websites or SaaS service providers and inform them when status changes. Its the same thing. If I monitor the message "there are no online premium appointments available", that's normal state. If the content changes (I have no idea what would appear) then I have a very good chance of knowing when appointments are available.
I used the free online Grafana synthetic services to setup monitoring. I connect to the website every minute and when the content changes, I would visually see it on my dashboard, but also added a notification email to our family mailbox.
Using twitter, and social media we already knew that appointments were few and far between. In fact, many rumours suggested its 9am every Tuesday, others said its 10am on a Friday. There was only one way to find out.
Below is the dashboard from this morning when the content actually changed again. We received an alert via email, I used a webhook to send a twitter update, visually you can see exactly when the changes were detected. The queue was open.
This is a picture of the actual screen, welcoming you to their internal queuing system. If you are lucky enough to get an appointment like us, then you will recognise this screen.
Over 1 month ago, within 12 hours of setting up this simple synthetic test, we grabbed ourselves a premium appointment. Although we had to travel 400 miles to Glasgow to attend an appointment, my technical idea worked a treat. We know there are 1000's of people right now waiting for these appointments, so this blog post might help someone somewhere. In Glasgow, many drove from London like us, some got an overnight ferry from Northern Ireland. Its crazy.
If you want to be informed when appointments are available, its easy to setup. Or, I can add you to my notification list.
The holiday has been and gone, the passports back in a drawer ready for the next adventure and my family have completely forgotten that it was me who got us in the queue. However, each day when I get these alerts.....I grin, knowing that I did something to help.