I know the names don't match, but it's really me! I swear!
October 26, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Someone purchased an airline ticket for me, but booked it under my nickname instead of my legal name. I don't have any photo ID with my nickname on it. Will I be able to fly?

(I know there have been previous questions asked about this kind of thing, but none since these new TSA guidelines were implemented.)

Everyone calls me by a nickname that is very different from my "actual" first name. Say my name is Josephine, but I go by Scarlett because of my hair color.

Anyhow, my boyfriend booked a trip for us, and he forgot to reserve my ticket as Josephine instead of Scarlett. We called the airline, and they can't/won't change the name on the ticket. Instead, they kindly offered to let us purchase a replacement ticket for the low low price of $600, which neither one of us can afford.

I know that, until recently, you didn't actually have to show ID to procure your boarding pass or get through security, although the agents at the security checkpoint would flag you for an extra screening. How much has this policy changed? Does it seem likely that I'll be able to board my flight? If not, do I have any other options?
posted by arianell to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been told stories by friends who have run into this problem before that it's pretty much an ironclad rule that the name on the ticket has to match the name on the ID pretty much exactly.

Suffice it to say this type of thing is precisely why it is absolutely critical to make a distinction between your legal name in official matters and your nickname in casual matters. Or, better yet, to formally adopt your nickname as your legal name by having your name legally changed to that nickname and getting new government-issued IDs.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2009

I go by my middle name, and people who know me forget this. A couple of years ago (but well after you had to take your shoes off to get one plane) a co-worker booked airplane tickets for me, and used my middle name instead of my first name. One screener looked a little closely at my ID, but I had no problems. Of course, my middle initial was at least on the ID.
posted by dilettante at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2009

You'll need to talk to a manager at the airline. I would call multiple times over a few days, until I heard no an awful lot, and maybe I'd even call until someone told me that there was a note on my record that said not to help me. With this kind of thing, you have to get lucky, and you have to be very, very patient and very, very nice to the people you talk to on the phone. It can be hard because it's frustrating. If this does not work, an executive email carpet bomb might do something.

Is there a way to give them a sob story; is this a special trip, for a funeral or a honeymoon? I am not suggesting you make up a sob story but it may help.

I would also not get into the details until asked. I would call and say "I accidentally booked my ticket with the wrong name." I wouldn't say that my boyfriend bought the ticket for me, I wouldn't get into what the nickname is, I would just tell them the basic facts until they asked for more information. This will help keep the situation clear for the person you're talking to, and removing cruft from the conversation until they ask for details might help. But I do suggest that you say that you booked your ticket with the wrong name; don't mention your boyfriend, because I feel like having a third party involved might make this more difficult for some reason.

Finally, see if the airline has a cancellation policy. You may only be out $100 or so.
posted by k8lin at 7:02 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been told stories by friends who have run into this problem before that it's pretty much an ironclad rule that the name on the ticket has to match the name on the ID pretty much exactly.

This is absolutely not true. We accidentally mis-spelled my girlfriend's name on her ticket to Germany. We called up freaking out and they said they couldn't change it, but that they didn't think there would be a problem. The lady at the check-in desk didn't even blink when we explained the situation. Really, she wasn't even paying attention while we explained.

Now, that was a different situation situation than the on the original poster is in, but don't think there isn't some leeway in there.

You might try calling the ticket counter at the airport and finding out the policy from someone who deals with it daily.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 7:06 PM on October 26, 2009

You could just go to the airport early, say you have no IDs whatsoever on you, and go through a bit more screening than usual and still fly, possibly with less hassle than being outright rejected for having a ticket which doesn't match your name. Also, there is a good chance that doing so is a bad idea. Related.
posted by halogen at 7:31 PM on October 26, 2009

Keep trying the airline. Changing it should be trivially easy for them. If that fails, go to the airport (not the day of your flight, but sometime before) and speak to someone at the ticket counter. Also a travel agent may be helpful. There's no reason they can't change this for you. Keep trying.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2009

You could just go to the airport early, say you have no IDs whatsoever on you, and go through a bit more screening than usual and still fly

As far as I know, this will absolutely not work. You need an ID to fly in or out of the US.
Keep calling the airline and begging to change the name. I don't see why they would balk.
These days, try pleading your case on Twitter, too. Lots of businesses try to look modern by having Twitter-based customer service.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:20 PM on October 26, 2009

Yes, keep calling the airline. Also, you don't say that the ticket was purchased directly from the airline. If it was bought at a travel site, call their customer service too. Be persistent, and nice, and explain that it was a mistake. I've had mistakes like this corrected before and it always seems like you eventually find someone who is willing to do it.
posted by cabingirl at 8:46 PM on October 26, 2009

My mother goes by her middle name and someone once booked a flight for her with that name. Even though her (rather unusual) middle name was on her ID, they were absolutely not going to let her fly. She ended up having to buy another ticket at the airport. I would definitely get this straightened out before flying. Take everyone else's advice and keep calling the airline.
posted by defreckled at 9:18 PM on October 26, 2009

The DoD booked my wife and me a commercial flight once, only they assumed we had the same last name. We don't. I didn't inspect the tickets beforehand like I should have and that turned out to be a bad scene at the airport, what with the flight leaving in an hour, security refusing to let her fly, the airline claiming not to be able to do anything even though the ticket was clearly meant for her, and the travel office claiming not to be able to do anything.

The airline won that one. The travel agency woke someone up in D.C. in the wee hours of the morning to approve reissuing the ticket with her correct name.

Where did your boyfriend buy the ticket? Can he have whoever issued it cancel it and reissue it under the correct name? I get from the above experience that the "airline" people you're going to be able to talk to aren't in the booking business and really don't have any ability to change tickets issued by travel agents. They just drive the planes.
posted by ctmf at 9:36 PM on October 26, 2009

National flight, maybe. International flight, not likely.
posted by Billegible at 9:37 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: As far as I know, this will absolutely not work. You need an ID to fly in or out of the US.

To clarify, it's a domestic flight, although I'm not sure if that matters.

The airline (US Airways) did finally agree to attach a note of some kind to my reservation, that says something like "passenger's legal first name is Josephine" so I should be OK at check-in, but since they still won't change the ticket, I can't see how I'll possibly be able to get through security.
posted by arianell at 9:40 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and the ticket was purchased on Expedia, and Expedia's customer service rep told us he couldn't help, and recommended we get in touch with the airline. Sigh.
posted by arianell at 9:44 PM on October 26, 2009

Expedia sucks. Great if you have to buy a ticket. Screwy if anything is wrong or anything changes. I don't even know WHY they have a customer service department. They ought to just have a disclaimer on the website saying "once you buy this sucker, you're on your own. Thanks for the money."

Sounds like USAir has your covered now. Have a good trip and maybe let us know how it went.
posted by salishsea at 9:57 PM on October 26, 2009

Is there any way you could get a photo ID from school or work or somewhere (the local rec?) with your nickname on it? I don't know if it would work for an adult, but flying as a high school kid it was pretty standard to use our school photo IDs instead of a driver's license because some people didn't have them. I *think* the rule is photo ID, not necessarily government issued photo ID.
posted by MadamM at 10:06 PM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: There are /were two separate problems here:

1. Revenue protection for the airline.
2. Security theatre conducted by TSA.

The airline cares about revenue protection because it doesn't want "John Smith" giving his (unusable) ticket to his brother or father (who their airline wants to buy their own ticket). No comment re: the purpose of TSA security theatre.

If you are not checking bags, you could have checked in online and there would be very little verification of your identity by the airline for revenue protection purposes. Looks like the note on your reservation from USAirways resolved that issue.

Making it past TSA -- well, there are lots of alternatives. Read the linked webpage above, of course. My understanding is that it's a lot harder to fly without showing ID to TSA (since the changes to the "secret" rules last summer), but there are ways to do it.

See, e.g., http://withoutbaggage.com/essays/flying-without-id/ and http://www.slate.com/id/2113157/
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:59 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My name was misspelled on my tickets last spring and the ticket agency also 'attached a note' to let the airline know. No one even asked about it and the security guards never even noticed.
posted by stubborn at 9:11 AM on October 27, 2009

You need an ID to fly in or out of the US.

Just to be clear, I meant both domestic and international flights.
I think you'll be okay with your note - if possible, get the counter person to print you a boarding pass in the right name. The TSA doesn't look at your ticket, just your boarding pass and ID.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:21 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: Do you have *ANY* ID whatsoever with this other name on it? The new regulations basically say that your name has to match what's on the ticket *exactly* and to not use nicknames/etc. When I worked for AirTran earlier this year, this popped up a few times. The only option was to change the name on the reservation, which was something that only the call center reservations folks could do. We could not accept nicknames under any circumstances at all.

It also depends on how attentive the TSA screeners are. You might be able to get past them without any problems. It really depends. One time I was asked to show my driver's license in addition to my airline ID card.
The 'notes' are merely reservation comments, and will not even show up on a printed boarding pass. They're meaningless outside of the reservation system and will certainly have no influence over the TSA.

I'd call Reservations back and escalate the issue.
posted by drstein at 1:50 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: So, long story short, we had to buy a new ticket. Drstein was correct, the "note" had no influence over what was ultimately printed on the boarding pass, and airline employees literally have no way of changing the name on a reservation.

Sucks, but it's definitely a mistake neither of us will ever make again.
posted by arianell at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2009

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