5 common travel mistakes – and how to fix them

By | January 3rd, 2010

Waiting. That’s the worst mistake a traveler can make these days.

It’s what Femi Adenuga did after buying tickets for his parents to fly from Lagos to Pittsburgh through Travelocity. “A week after the purchase, while e-mailing the itinerary to my dad, my eye caught a single letter error in my mother’s first name,” said Adenuga, a college student. He contacted Travelocity, which got in touch with Delta Air Lines, which urged him to cancel the ticket and buy a new one.

Delta’s official ticket name policy, outlined on its site, is abundantly unclear: “In general, Delta and Northwest do not allow a name to be changed on an existing PNR.” (A PNR is shorthand for Passenger Name Record, which is a fancy way to describe your itinerary.)

In general?

I can think of lots of exceptions, including this memorable case involving a canceled destination wedding and a ticket that needed to be changed for obvious reasons. But I digress.

Adenuga shouldn’t have waited to review the names on his tickets. As I’ve mentioned a time or two, many travel agencies can change a ticket name if the error is caught quickly. A week later, you’re pretty much at the mercy of your airline.

I’m dedicating this column to travel mistakes, a topic will be familiar to anyone who reads this feature or follows my misadventures as National Geographic Traveler magazine’s ombudsman. I haven’t collected all of my favorite travel errors in a single column in a while, and the industry has changed. Not necessarily for the better, I might add.


Travelocity tried to help Adenuga, to no avail. Delta refused to change one letter, instead telling the online agency it would “make a notation” in the record, but adding that it couldn’t guarantee authorities would allow his mother into the country. Based on that advice, Adenuga bought a new ticket, and Delta issued a voucher for the amount of the first ticket.

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Can you say “absurd”?

So here it is: Review every reservation you make online or offline immediately. If there’s a problem, speak up. Airlines that refuse to make reasonable name change to correct an obvious typographical error — well, that’s a topic for another time. Let’s just say these are not nice people and leave it at that, for now.

What other kinds of mistake should you avoid when you travel?

Not inspecting your rental car when you pick it up
When Alan Chim rented a car from Thrifty in Montreal, he didn’t notice any damage to his vehicle in the dark garage. But no employee was there to sign off on the car. “On return, the agent inspected the vehicle and noticed a tiny scratch on the front driver-side door,” he told me. “The attendant made me fill out an incident report and said I’d be hearing back within three to six weeks.” (Its damage claim against him is still pending as I write this.) This mistake is relatively easy to avoid. Find someone who works for the car rental company and ask for a sign-off. Note any damage, even the smallest dent or scratch. Here’s some good news: Hertz just began a program to start taking pre-rental pictures of its cars. You might consider getting a snapshot of your vehicle, too.