Plenty of things can go wrong with any airline trip. One of the easiest problems to avoid is a simple thing in making reservations: Give the airline or travel agent your exact name as on your driver’s license or passport.

I am sure most readers are savvy enough fliers that name problems don’t happen to them. But this post might be useful for infrequent flier friends and relatives.

As an agent, it’s easy when I get an email from a Becky or Bill. I simply ask, is it Rebecca or William? Though sometimes it can be an exotic or foreign variation. Rebekkah or Guillermo, for example.

And yes, sometimes you might get lucky — but not always. A client who had flown “for 20 years” as Penny, when her real name was Penelope, was nearly denied boarding last year. You can’t count on the agent recognizing the diminutive, or even if they recognize it, accepting the ticket.

And it can get more complicated. I had a request this week from a Mike. I asked it was Michael on his license, he said, yeah, well, actually, it’s Matthew Michael. Does that matter?

Only if you want to get on the plane.

In most of these cases, the traveler says “But I always go by that name.” And some even have business cards with a nickname.

Then there are the hyphenated last names, and those who use one name professionally and another name legally. Any combination of the above is fine, but the legal name MUST match the ticket. Even if the traveler somehow signed up for a frequent flier account under a slightly different name.

If a name has changed, through marriage or divorce, the airline doesn’t care. Even if you “hardly think of the jerk anymore,” as one client told me. When a passport and driver’s license have different names, use the same that matches the identification you are using.

For example, for a domestic trip where a drivers license has your married name, travel under your married name, if your passport still shows a maiden name, book international travel under that name. And try to get them synchronized. Otherwise it will be a problem with accruing frequent flier miles as well as a point of possible confusion.

For hyphenated last names, however, airline systems do not recognize hyphens, so they run it together. But it does matter, if say a drivers license says, for example, “Susan Armstrong-Jones, or Susan Armstrong Jones, because without a hyphen a picky security agent will say that the ticket should read Susan Jones with Armstrong as a middle name, and with a hyphen the ticket should read Susan ArmstrongJones.

In our office, we catch this sort of thing all the time. And often people are shocked that it matters. On good days we catch it before the ticket is issued. (But sometimes, especially when someone is making a third party reservation, mistakes happen because the travel arranger has the wrong information.)

We do wonder, however, how often people who book online discover the problem only when they get to the airport. If you have a story about a name incident would love to hear about it in comments.

And by the way, this name game is about to get a lot more complicated. Tomorrow’s post will be on the new TSA name rules which will start to roll out later this week.