Woman at airport looking at flight schedule boards


September 20, 2016

This month I’m pinch-hitting for our regular “What If I …” writer, Molly Jensen, who has more important things to do. Honestly.

People make mistakes. We hear that all the time, and see evidence of it at every turn … like that right turn that is supposed to be a left turn, onto that one-way street that’s supposed to go the other way.

The question is, what if that mistake is made on something that’s a crucial element of your travels – namely, your tickets?

The answer is not always the one you might have been expecting, or hoping for.

Before we get to the bad news, remember what it takes for you to actually get on board a plane. You book your airline tickets directly, through an online travel-booking service, or a through a travel agent.

You then take your tickets in either printed or virtual form to the airport or station, where you are asked to present an ID so security can verify that you are indeed the person who is entitled to transportation on their conveyance.

Above large airport full of docked planesPhoto credit: Nicolas Jehly via Unsplash.

Here’s where things start to break down. Suppose you or someone else entered the wrong name on your tickets – even something minor, like a transposed letter or an incorrect middle initial. For the security agents, it doesn’t really matter if Marvin Maynard’s name is spelled “Maynard Marvin” or “Raymond Luxury Yacht”; a mistake is a mistake, and a big red flag, and security as well as the transportation provider has every right to turn back that passenger and refuse them passage.

Another fairly common mistake is entering the wrong destination code. Airports are identified by three-letter destination codes, and there are so many airports around the world that it’s not possible to create a lot of space between each code. For instance, the code for Lubbock, Texas, is LBB; the code for Hamburg, Germany, is LBC; Khudzhand, Tajikistan, is LBD; Latrobe, Pa., is LBE; North Platte, Neb., is LBF; Paris is LBG; and Sydney is LBH. It takes only the slip of a finger on a keyboard to send someone to Nebraska instead of Paris, or Tajikistan instead of Texas.

Person in airport looking out at planePhoto credit: Thong Vo via Unsplash.

According to travel agent Helen Prochilo, who works with travel writer and consumer advocate Chris Elliott on travel-related issues, "a common problem is 'the airline spelled my name wrong on my tickets.’ Airline websites only print out what you, the consumer, put in. In most cases, if you catch your mistake within 24 hours, you can get it corrected with no charge.  I’m shocked at how many folks do not review their confirmations."

If you don't catch a mistake within 24 hours, you may be able to exchange a ticket with an incorrect name after paying a rebooking fee, but don’t count on it.

Similarly, if a wrong airport code is entered on a ticket, expect to pay cancellation and/or rebooking fees – but also expect to encounter situations where you may be stuck with the old ticket and have to buy a completely new ticket to get to where you want to go.

How can you prevent situations like these? Double- and triple-check everything, as soon as you receive it. Don’t assume you or a third party is going to get everything right all the time.

Also, if you’re entering information on a ticket-purchasing site, have the ID you’re going to use right alongside you as you enter the information.

Understand that now is not the time to follow of the footsteps of my son, who arbitrarily started spelling his middle name (Richard) with an extra H because he wanted his name to have an even number of letters.

After you’ve triple-checked everything, give everything one more thorough going-over before you press the booking button. If you don’t, and there’s a mistake, travel insurance isn’t going to help you.

Though you have our undying sympathy.

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