Wrong name on my ticket

by Christopher Elliott on July 28, 2003

Q: My husband and I recently purchased two roundtrip tickets to Rome from OneTravel. As soon as I had keyed in the purchase, I realized that I had listed my husband’s name as Jack Finegan. In fact, his legal name is John Andrew Finegan.

It dawned on me that the name on the ticket would not agree with the name on his passport, so I immediately e-mailed OneTravel and asked to have the ticket issued in the correct name.

I never received a reply to my request. When the tickets arrived, the requested change had not been made. Thus began the most frustrating set of circumstances we have ever encountered in more than 40 years of travel. First I spoke with Michelle, an agent at Delta Air Lines customer service. She told me it should be no problem and that I should simply call OneTravel and notify it that the ticket was issued in the wrong name and ask for a re-issued ticket in the correct name.

I contacted OneTravel and was told this was impossible. So I called Delta back, and I was again told that it would not be a problem but that Delta couldn’t do it – it had to be OneTravel.

I called OneTravel and spoke with a customer service representative named Danielle, who again told me it could not be done. Only a letter could be written acknowledging that a name change request had been made. But Delta said a letter was in no way acceptable to their gate employees or customs people.

I called OneTravel again. This time, I was put through to a supervisor, Rosie, and I asked her to look into the matter. The next day Rosie left a message on our phone saying that the change could not be made. Rosie first indicated that Delta refused to grant permission for the change. Then she told me that an e-mail had been sent to me asking me to call OneTravel about the change. I had received no such e-mail.

Then I was told that FAA regulations prohibited the change. In desperation, I asked Rosie what options we had left. She told me that I could purchase a new ticket and return the one with the incorrect name and that, after a penalty had been deducted from it, our Visa card would be credited with the balance. So that’s what I did.

It’s been several months and we’ve received no refund from OneTravel. Can you help us get our money back?

– Paula Finegan

A: This is such an absurd problem. Just because you used your husband’s nickname, you have to buy a whole new ticket. How unfair is that?

You could blame crossed wires between Delta and OneTravel, or to fault the Federal Aviation Administration. But the fact is, neither is responsible. OneTravel may be slow and bureaucratic, but it’s at Delta’s mercy. And the FAA? I checked the regulations and it has no rule preventing your from changing the name on your ticket.

I’m afraid the reason for the runaround is airline avarice. Carriers such as Delta could make your ticket completely transferable if they wanted to, but it would result in a loss of revenue. As I write this, several airlines have just posted their first quarter of profitability in a long while, and I think they should consider making their tickets transferable as a gesture of goodwill to the passengers and taxpayers who made their profits possible.

Don’t hold your breath, Paula.

Short of asking John to legally change his name to Jack, I can offer only one piece of advice to keep this from ever happening again. Double- and triple-check the name on your ticket before you click the “book” button. If you’re a repeat customer at an online travel agency, you can store your customer profile, which would prevent a misunderstanding like this from recurring. Make sure the name matches the full, legal name on your husband’s driver’s license or passport.

I would also consider de-activating the option on your Internet browser that automatically completes text fields. That way, if you type in “J” it won’t automatically complete the field to read “Jack.” Auto-complete is the enemy of every online traveler. Turn it off now.

After I contacted OneTravel, it got back in touch with Delta and this time, the results were different. OneTravel spokeswoman Karen Crager apologized for the “lengthy and complicated” nature of the process and within several weeks, a credit of $512.38 was issued to your card.

Delta and OneTravel did the right thing by processing your refund promptly. But in the long term, I think the airlines ought to take a closer look at their customer-hostile transferability policies.

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