The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I’ve got two airline tickets in the same name

By | June 3rd, 2011

Question: Please help a mom who is an inexperienced traveler. I recently booked three tickets to fly from Chicago to Panama City, Fla., for my two sons and me, through Bookit.com, an online travel agency. Somehow, my name has been listed twice instead of my 16-year-old son’s name.

At first I thought it was because he was a minor. But then I called Bookit.com and they said this was not the case and that my youngest son could not travel on a ticket that had my name on it.

I have called the airline, Delta Air Lines, and the online agency to try to resolve this, without any success. Delta says Federal Aviation Administration regulations prevents them from changing the name but they say Bookit.com should be able to do it. Bookit.com says Delta is refusing to change the name. Any suggestions or advice would be welcome and appreciated. — Beth Anderson, Tinley Park, Ill.

Answer: You would think that an online agency would have safeguards to prevent someone from booking two tickets on the same flight under the same name. Or at the very least, the agency or airline would see this obvious mistake, and fix it without citing a nonexistent law.

There’s no FAA rule that I’m aware of that prevents an airline from changing the name on a ticket. In fact, some airlines will change the name on a ticket (for a fee) and if there were a federal law, they’d all be locked up by now.


Why do airlines, and for that matter online agencies, balk at changing the name on your ticket? It’s probably money. They’d rather charge you for a new ticket, even if you made an honest mistake.

Related story:   When you’re 6′ 4”, these Delta seating charts will look a little scammy, too

If you’re an inexperienced traveler, maybe you would have been more comfortable booking your flights through a travel agent instead of online. It’s true, tickets bought through an agency are subject to a booking fee, and it’s also true that many traditional agents won’t bother with a simple airline ticket booking (too much hassle and not enough money) but a competent travel adviser who sees this as the beginning of a long-term relationship would be happy to help.

You inadvertently booked two tickets under the same name, which was your mistake. I think your online agency and airline should have been more understanding. As it turns out, you tried to resolve this by calling both companies. While that may seem like the quickest way to resolve the matter, it isn’t. Calls aren’t always logged accurately, and without a case number, you’ll end up explaining yourself to a representative over and over.

Next time, put your grievance in writing. I suggested that you send a brief, polite email to Delta, asking it to help. You contacted the airline, and it changed the name on your ticket at no charge.



  • Furan

    This mess-up was definitely due to Bookit.com . It is never worth buying from those websites unless that’s the only place the ticket is sold (in this case, Delta.com would have sold it too). They really should have taken responsibility in this case.

    Nice of Delta to change it though. I do find Delta to be a good airline in general, and other airlines probably would have done the same.

  • BillC

    I have always believed that a simple name change within a reasonable amount ot time should be done by either the airline or the booking agency for no fee. It is the small problems such as this that turn people away from travel.

  • Alan

    As a database man, I know that changing a name on a ticket costs a fraction of a second of server time, plus a few seconds of labor. The rest is pure profit. As the airline execs say, it’s good to be king.

  • andrelot

    I honestly think this is a case of buyer beware. The airline should not be obliged to change it, but it was good that it did. 

    The reasons airline resist changing names on tickets on daily basis is to avoid hoarding by middleman like travel agents or else. Imagine if airline tickets were like – say – Greyhound or Amtrak tickets, unnamed. Specialists would scoop the ultra-low fares and set up some network to sell them later at higher prices, in a very uncontrolled manner and prone to fraud.

    If you have aggressive yield management with wild variance on fares paid by passengers on the same plane, you ought to control, strictly, the use of tickets. Tying tickets to names informed on purchase is the single best way to do them, in the case of airlines.

    Not surprisingly, as more and more European high-speed train companies move toward airline-style pricing (huge discounts if you buy in advance, sky-high prices if you turn up at the station to catch the next train), as airlines are the main competitor for long-distance high-speed trains, we’re witnessing those rail companies instituting e-ticketing and nominal tickets, step by step.

  • DavidS

    Online booking engines are not travel agencies.

  • JJWeldon

    I stopped checking the travel sites a long time ago when I figured out they charge the same for a ticket as the airlines.  Now I use them to see who has the better fares and schedules and then book through the airline.  There are just too many stories about once they have your money they turn a deaf ear.  Unbelievable why someone would book through these or even worse the hotwire-type sites.

  • JJWeldon

    I meant booking on the travel sites, not checking

  • Phil

    If I were you I would not suggest booking with a brick and mortar travel agency, if you suggest it enough, your blog may no longer be of interest, of course I say this with tongue and cheek. All those inexperienced travelers will be keeping your blog going for a long time to come. I for one do not feel sorry for those that do not know what they are doing, if they do get the reservation correct, I hope they can find the airport.

  • Brooklyn

    Some of you have forgotten that no one is born knowing how to book online – each of us once did it for the first time! We’ve seen over and over on this site that travel agents are at best useless and at worst dishonest unless you happen to luck out – and here again, how would an inexperienced traveller know who was reputable? Airlines and booking sites need to be responsive to all their customers, not just the frequent flyers.  Add the name change issue it to the list of things we need Congress to regulate!

  • Cheeseheadchick

    When airlines used to issue paper tickets, I could see charging a nominal fee for a name change, as they would actually have to print out the tickets, mail them, etc.  Now that we have basically gone to all e-tickets, there is no real loss on the airline’s part for a simple name change.  Even if they are given 24 hours from receipt of the confirmation that is usually sent to confirm the purchase – that would be more than enough for any of those minor changes.

  • bodega

    Let me  clear a few things up.  Airline tickets are accountable documents, be it a paper or a eticket.  Even at the airport, they have to handle paperwork on an exchange, which a name change would be.  Now that every US domestic PNR has to have secured data included, it gets more complicated.  Despite Alan’s database experience, there are things that are required for accountablility and they take a bit of time to do. 

    As for your comment Chris on a website not allowing the same name twice in a PNR.  It is very common to have two generations in a family with the exact same name.  To build two separate PNR’s takes time and a possibility of not getting the same fare, not to mention making more mistakes.

    If you are booking online, you have the same responsibility I do as a ticketing agent.  I recently read in the trades that the airlines are starting to question the value of online sites as there are just too many mistakes made and too many calls to them to get them fixed.

  • Steve R

    I disagree that the airline should not be obligated to change it.

    First of all, the concern about middlemen hoarding tickets could be easily addressed: limit the number of name changes per buyer per year. People who make honest mistakes in booking – like the OP here – don’t need to be allowed to change the names on tickets very often.

    Second, I’m not opposed to airlines charging a fee for changing the name on a ticket. Heck, even an unreasonable fee like $150 would still be better than saying “sorry, you have to eat the cost of the whole ticket” which could be well over $1,000. Something in the $25-50 range would certainly cover their costs and then some for making the change, while still encouraging passengers to be careful when they book without penalizing them to an unreasonable extent for an honest mistake.

    Third, the thing that bothers me the most is the airline lying to the customer and hiding behind a nonexistent law as an excuse. If a business is going to decide to refuse to make name changes, the very least they can do is be honest about why they’re doing it. IMHO, it’s unacceptable for a business to blame their policies on a made-up law.

  • Steve R

    Don’t airlines have to also collect the passenger’s date of birth now? If so, that would make it easier. It is very common for two people in the same family to have the same name; it seems very unlikely to me that two people with the exact same name *and* exact same date of birth would be traveling together.

  • bodega

    Secure data is the passenger’s date of birth, sex and name and is required for all flights in the US and to the US.  Look at George Foreman.  He named all his sons the same name, so it could happen in one reservation but since the secured data is for Homeland Security, at the airport is where is would be an issue not ending a PNR.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I don’t think it’s very fair to tar all travel agents with the same brush.  There are a couple that post on this site that I’ve found to be very helpful in explaining things behind the scenes.

    My experience with TAs in the Omaha, NE area haven’t been good, but that doesn’t mean there *isn’t* one out there that *is* good.  My husband and I would really like to travel more, especially to other countries.  For something complicated like that, I would really like to sit down with an agent to help me plan my trip.  I’m still looking . . .

    For booking a simple airplane ticket, I don’t need the services of a TA.  My mother, who is very inexperienced with modern air travel and also the Internet, either needs me or needs a TA. I think competent, knowledgeable and consumer-oriented travel agents have a place in today’s travel industry.

  • flutiefan

    why was he mess up due to Bookit.com? it was due to the OP typing in HER name twice. seems like she caused the mess up.

  • Raven

    Yeah, it’s a “federal regulation” until you wave money at the airline. Funny how that works…

  • SallyLu

    Is it possible that a warning system could be built in so that if the same data is entered, a warning could pop up and let the buyer know that they were trying to buy a second ticket with info already entered?  I work at an investment firm and if we enter a trade for the same symbol in the same account on the same day, we get a warning that pops up, where we have to choose Yes to continue or Cancel the trade.  Saves on errors when you’re rushing to put in a list of trades and get distracted and try to put the same one in again. 

  • flutiefan

    thank you Bodega for saying everything i was thinking!  people really are blissfully unaware of this “behind-the scenes” stuff.  do i think $150 name change fees are too high? yes. but i also understand why it’s necessary to have these fees in place.

  • Laura

    It’s quite possible the OP has an auto-fill feature on their internet account that overrode what they typed and they didn’t notice.

    It’s also possible that an inexperienced person was confused by the set-up of the site, as some have the place you input the (credit) cardholder’s name dangerously close to the area where you are filling in passenger info.

    You should always review the data entry, and I’m guessing the OP will now triple check always. And it was nice of Delta to fix it for her – although they oughta track down the employee who told her it was against FAA law…

  • lmg

    As a TA I thank you for your very kind post and am happy to report that there is a place for TA’s in today’s travel industry. 

  • bodega

    We have to follow the airlines rules and get fined if we don’t, same as online portals.  There is a 24 hour window but after than SOL.  WN operates differently in their process, but they, too, are making changes.  They have taken steps to do away with transfering of tickets.  You can thank your fellow passengers for that.

  • bodega

    Not sure your point in this instance, as there is no federal regulation on name changes.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Thank for sharing. I put Bookit.com on the black list and avoid it like the plague.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Me and my sister are I.T. specialists and experts on web design, testing
    and we are extensive travelers (we did 6 round the world trips)… even
    then, we still use TA for some complicated itineraries and services
    like insurance, customized tours, etc…

    Believe us, there are many many many imperfections, flaws, programming
    errors, un-synchronized data base, Internet connection lost…all you
    can imagine on the website of Airlines and Booking Third Party Website.

    10 years ago, all errors remains at the reservation center, agents have
    to correct it (most of the time, it’s the system errors rather than
    agent error) .

    Today the Airlines, Hotel companies shovel the task of reservations and
    responsibilities of error on the travelers and try to squeeze the money
    out of their errors. It’s a DOUBLE DIP, cut the expenses on their
    reservation center and make the money out the customers.

    I think we must have a 24 hours cancellation free for any reason. You cannot
    have a full picture of your travel plan until you have all the emails or
    print out (or on screen) to figure out the errors, when there are many
    travelers on the same itinerary or many destinations with hotel and
    car.

  • djp

    mistakes do happen….this is an honest mistake.  What if she made a mispeling on the name (that was intentional).  If she realized this right after booking then this should not be an issue.

  • Raven

    I believe that is the BS line the airline gave the OP in this instance.

  • bodega

    The res agents who answer your calls are usually off shore and don’t know what they are doing or saying.  These are the same ones, who will tell you that you need a passport to fly from FLL to HNL….a DL agent actually said this. 

  • Carver

    Steve R

    I agree 110% with your analysis.

  • Carver

    Phil,

    It must be nice to have attained perfection.

  • Guest

    If anything, it’s the amount of time needed to: a) change the name, and b) reissue the ticket. It doesn’t exactly take a “few seconds of labor” to do all that, unless that’s a figure of speech. :)

  • David

    It’s only arduous because the owner of the system makes it that way. There’s no reason why someone “has to be careful” to copy information between two PNRs (or any database rows) correctly – automation could easily handle that, if there was any desire (incentive) to do so. 

    Instead it’s easier to make an agent (travel, reservations, etc) spend their time doing it. Assuming even $15/hr in direct costs, a $150 change fee leaves a full 10 hours of typing to get things done and still make a profit. 

    I hate when a process that is either designed to be cumbersome, or is benignly left cumbersome is given as a reason for general unreasonableness when it’s really that the competing interests aren’t aligned the way someone thinks they are. 

    For example, an airline is simply printing money with a $150 to change a name. It’s in nobody’s interest, except the consumer, to do anything about it, and since hardly anyone picks an airline on the basis of the cost to change a ticket, the amount charge can be, within broad parameters, nearly anything. 

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