A typo on my airline ticket

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Question: I recently bought tickets to Italy by calling Expedia. I spelled my wife’s first name to the agent. That afternoon we left town for a trip. When we returned the tickets were at the front door and a confirmation e-mail was waiting. My wife’s first name was spelled Crista instead of Christa.

I immediately called Expedia, and was told I should have contacted them the day the e-mail was sent to me and that there would be a $150 re-ticketing fee. After several more calls and being put on “hold” for more than half an hour, a supervisor told me that there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t even change the name on the ticket.

I contacted the airline directly and they told me they would make a note on my wife’s passenger record. My wife’s tickets are still wrong and I’m afraid we may have a problem with our connecting airline or with customs. What can I do? — Frank Santa Maria, New Braunfels, Texas

Answer: Expedia should have spelled your wife’s name correctly. When it was clear that the company had made an error, it should have done everything in its power to fix it instead of giving you the runaround and forcing you to deal directly with your airline.

Then again, it should have never come to this. First, why are you phoning an online travel agency to buy tickets? It may be more convenient, but online agencies are built to handle your purchases online. It’s more efficient and reduces the chance of an error being introduced — like misspelling a passenger’s name.

Second, you should always check your verification e-mail immediately. Expedia could have made a change to your ticket if you had caught the mistake earlier. It’s essential that you review your itinerary as soon as possible. Believe me, I know. I just made this mistake and had to spend an extra day at my destination because I put the wrong date in my reservation. (See? It can happen to anyone.)

I’ve dealt with too many wrong-name cases to count, and here are a few things I’ve learned. Passengers aren’t turned away at the gate because of a typographical error on their tickets. Reservations systems have limitations that sometimes truncate last names or render non-English names in funny characters. Last names and first names are frequently flip-flopped. Ticket agents, gate agents and security screeners know that, and will let you through.

I haven’t heard of anyone being denied boarding because of a one-character difference in a name. I’m reasonably sure your wife would have been allowed to travel using her ticket, even if this had happened after the May 15 implementation of the first phase of the Transportation Security Administration’s “Secure Flight” initiative, which requires that you provide your full name as it appears on your government-issued identification.

Incidentally, the “notation” in her reservation would have almost certainly been visible to any connecting airline. And a customs agent wouldn’t even pay attention to your ticket under normal circumstances. It’s your customs form and passport that matter to them.

Next time you buy tickets by phone — and I hope there’s no next time — do yourself a big favor: When you offer your name to the agent, ask to have it spelled back. That way, you’ll catch any errors before the transaction goes through. Once you have a reservation, it becomes much more difficult (or even impossible) to make a change.

It shouldn’t be that way. In an ideal world, you’d be able to change a name on a ticket. Airlines say they can’t allow name changes for “security reasons” but I’m inclined to believe it has more to do with the fact that they would lose lots of money if passengers could give their tickets to friends and family. Or resell them.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it issued a new ticket with your wife’s name spelled correctly.

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  • Barry

    Chris, I can assure you airline agents do turn passengers away at the counter with very simple spelling errors, I have proof of that. The error was “e” instead of “a” in first name.

    The bottom line is, It all depends on which side of the bed the counter/gate agent woke up that morning. And with these new rules going into effect later this year it is going to get worse instead of better.

  • laura townsend elion

    @ Barry

    I think it might have to do with how nicely you deal with it. We got my father onto a flight to Bermuda with no passport and no drivers license (he had anotherr federally issued ID that originally they didn’t want to accept because it was expired.). He got on the flight because we were calm and friendly (but firm in our statement that he had been told ahead of time he could use it to board).

  • Barry

    Laura,

    I agree with how nicely you deal with it, unfortunitly it was not a matter of being nice or not. It was a matter of a rude airline employee abusing there authority.

    This was an air/sea cruise package. Initially, the cruise line spelled the first name wrong, using an “e” instead of an “a” but they did correct it and sent new travel documents with correct name spelling. The new airline electronic ticket showed the name spelled correctly and the gate agent saw this on the electronic document. However for some reason within the airline system the name still showed the name mispelled. A call was made to the cruise line hotline, who inturn called the airline which a supervisor posted a message to the counter agent via there computer system that it was okay. Unfortunitly no matter what was done the counter/gate agent refused boarding no matter how nice you where.

    The outcome was the cruise line generated another airline ticket on a different carrier that morning to make it to the ship in time.

  • baasbaas

    I bought a ticket at the USAir website. I spelled my first name “Marie” and filled in the block for middle initial “L” on thier site. When the e-ticket came it was for :Mariel .” I immediately contacts USAir Customer Service and reported/questioned this. The answer was “Oh yes, we always do this with the middle initial. You will have no problem at the airport..” This flight is over July 4 – so we shall see. I am really not comfortable with this. I do think USAir should reissue the e-ticket. A thought – will my travel insurance cover me if this causes a denial ?

  • John M

    I had to chuckle over the $150.00 re-ticketing fee. If this had been purchased through a professional travel agent and the error had been picked up before the end of the next business day, the agent could have voided the ticket, corrected the problem and reissued the new corrected ticket without charging $150.00 for a re-ticketing fee.

  • Rich

    @ Barry

    “unfortunitly” is “unfortunately”

  • http://www.singleparenttravel.net John F

    @ Mariel—what they told you is true and it is an issue with a lot of the reservation systems. I just sent Patriciao and Johne to Italy. Once the new initiative is implemented fully and the res systems and airlines are relatively sure the gov’t won;t change their mind, they will take on the task of updating the systems.

    @Laura–When was this trip to BDA? Certainly not recently, as no airline will board an undocumented pax for fear of having to bring them back.

  • Brian not Briana

    I had the same experience with US AIr….. :BRIANA instead of :BRIAN A, and I had no problem on that flight.