Screening- the original agency I was w/did psych evals BEFORE ever presenting a surrogate's profile to IP's. I 1000000000% agree w/this in that you, the agency and the IP's know that you are mentally sound and clear to be moving forward. This was one of the biggest reasons I went w/that particular agency. For me, I did NOT want to be matched w/IP's, start building a relationship, only to get to the psych and not be cleared. (I didn't actually think that I wouldn't pass, but sometimes you just never know) They are then out that $$ and have started to become more emotionally involved and would then have to start back over. For some, it's not an "agency" thing, but rather a clinic/RE thing. While still w/the same agency, one of the sets of IP's I was working w/was using a different clinic that wanted the psych eval done in-house, which meant that I was matched already and contracts done. They did the psych and med screening in a marathon day, which was fine, but had there been a reason why I wasn't approved w/them, then my IP's just paid all that $$ for contracts, flying me out, the screening, etc, and just had to start over from scratch. I wasn't terribly keen on that at all, and had I been a 1st time surrogate, I think I would have been way more concerned.
Not every RE demands to have a saline sono, hysteroscopy, etc. done. My original RE NEVER did any of that...only the FDA labs and those had to be w/in 6mos of cycing. I had 3 successful surrogacies w/this RE and not once did I have anything more than blood work. I've heard different reasoning for having it done from looking for uterine abnormalities to "mapping" the uterus to making sure there is a good path between the cervix and where the RE prefers to try and release the embryo/s.
As for the travelling part....in all honesty, they are trying to keep expenses as cheap as they possibly can. It will cost the IP's significantly less to fly you in early morning, car service from airport to clinic back to the airport and maybe 2 meals for the day vs fly you in, car service from airport to hotel, hotel stay, 1-2 meals that day, car service from hotel to clinic, 2-3 meals that day, car service from clinic to airport. Plus if there are lost wages for 1 day vs 2 days, overnight parking at your home airport (unless someone dropped you off and is picking you up), etc. When I was working w/2 different US clinics for my last couple of journeys, because of commitments and priorities between my own jobs, kids, kids activities and DH's schedule, flying out and back on the same day were not feasible for me. I had to go out the day before and fly home after all screening was done, so it was about 1 1/2days total. Sometimes you, as the surrogate, don't have a choice and the agency will have to suck it up and deal w/it. You will be inconvenienced enough when it comes to surrogacy, but it should not be such a huge deal for something like screening. If there is a reason why you really need to go the day before, they should be accomodating when possible.
You will not get a protocol until the RE has legal clearance for you. Period. I have a surrogate right now that we just want to get BCP's for her now, so that once contracts are done, they can get moving quickly. The RE absolutely will not even consider it. Depending on how long it takes to get full clearance (medical/psych) and then contracts finalized, it could be 6-8wks (depending on the RE's protocol) or even longer. If everything went absolutely perfectly and quickly, Feb. could be a possibility, but more realistically I would just think March. I had one RE whose FET protocol was just as long as his fresh protocol (7wks!!) and he still wanted to use BCP's to manipulate my cycle, so by the time contracts were done, psych and med clearance, it was somewhere between 12-14wks before we got to that transfer. The last RE I was working w/has a short FET protocol (3-3 1/2wks) it was maybe 7-9wks from clearance to transfer.