What’s the best way to correct the name on an airline ticket? If you’re Akshay Malhotra, the answer is: Buy a new one, of course!
In March, Malhotra booked a flight from Newark, N.J., to New Delhi on United Airlines for his wife, using her maiden name, which matched her passport. But in the meantime, she became a U.S. citizen and took his last name. “United is telling me the only way to fix this is to buy a new ticket with the correct last name,” he says.
United doesn’t prominently disclose its name-change policy online, but the industry standard is that minor slips such as typographical errors can be corrected, while major alterations require either a change fee or a new ticket. Airlines say it’s because of post-9/11 security concerns, but critics claim that intentionally vague policies have added millions of dollars in change fees and ticket-replacement charges to the airline industry’s coffers.
An interesting thing happened this year when a new Transportation Department rule went into effect, allowing passengers to cancel an airline reservation within 24 hours of making it. The rule permitted most ticketing errors to be fixed, effectively threatening an important source of revenue for the airline industry. (Among the major airlines, only Southwest Airlines does not charge ticket change fees.)
As a result, some airlines took an even harder line on name changes. Consider what happened to Belinda Johnson — that’s Belinda with a “B” — when she booked a round-trip airline ticket on United from Cleveland to Paris through Travelocity.
“The ticket agent had a heavy Indian accent, and I did not realize that he had misspelled my name as Delinda instead of Belinda until I called them to find out why I hadn’t received confirmation letters,” she says.
By then, the 24-hour rule no longer applied. Travelocity deferred to United, which said that it allows “no name changes.”
That seemed a little harsh, so I contacted Travelocity and United to see whether I could get the mistake corrected. Charles Hobart, a United representative, said that the airline’s policy on changes is that it has no policy on changes. “Tickets are non-transferable, and the name on the ticket needs to match the customer’s government-issued identification,” he said. “Customers should contact reservations if they have questions regarding an error on their ticket. Of course, we also encourage customers to make certain that the names match before purchasing their tickets.”
Okay, so how about Delinda … uh, I mean Belinda?
“A single letter change shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
United corrected her ticket.
If you think that this policy — or lack of one — makes it seem as if airlines are trying to cash in on our mistakes, you’re not alone. The rules at other airlines, from Delta (“Name changes are not permitted,” says its site) to US Airways (“If there is a discrepancy [between your ID and ticket], go to the airport ticket counter with your passport to update your reservation,” it advises) are similarly vague, restrictive or both. Only one domestic airline, discount carrier Allegiant, allows name changes for a $50 fee, but with significant restrictions.