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The name game

September 06, 2009|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: I booked an international flight for my wife and myself using Priceline. Her passport has the first name of Janet, but I booked the flight using the name Jan. Priceline sent a message to the airline saying her travel documents would be under the name Janet, but the only way they could change the ticket would be by canceling the flight and rebidding. Is the difference in names likely to cause us a problem at check-in?

Mike Hannah

Huntington Beach


Answer: Not right now. But don't bet on it in the future.

Hannah may be the beneficiary of some leniency because of the change in who controls passenger watch lists.

Until recently, it was the airlines. Each airline had its own list, and if you accidentally got on someone's bad list, you would, more than likely, be pulled over for additional screening each time you flew that carrier. But you might sail through on another airline for reasons no one ever would explain.

Now, these lists are under the control of the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight Program, which is being implemented.

The key words are "being implemented." Which is to say the program is not fully in place on domestic flights and is still a ways off for international.

As a result, the TSA is being a bit more flexible, said Suzanne Trevino, a spokeswoman for the agency. Asked whether Hannah would have problems, she said, "I completely think he's OK."

And here's what the TSA website says: "TSA has built some flexibility into the processes regarding passenger name accuracy. For the near future, small differences between the passenger's ID and the passenger's reservation information . . . should not cause a problem for the passenger."

If Hannah is still holding his breath, here's what Priceline spokesman Brian Ek said: "If the name is off by two letters (no more), the ticketing agency can put an electronic message into the passenger's ticketing record clarifying the name. In order to do this, the passenger would need to contact whoever issued the ticket. After the message is sent, we ask the customer to call the airline to confirm that they have the message in their records and are OK with the change."

When I asked Ek if he was serious about the two-letter maximum, he responded, "One or two letters. But not three or more."

(Although Trevino said she'd never heard of the three-letter rule, I say thank God the wife's name isn't Janeta.)

So for now, it appears the couple will get a pass. In the future, it may be more difficult. Secure Flight will call not only for a full name, but also for date of birth and gender, and they must match what's on your government-issued ID.

If you're uncertain about the date of birth, don't guess. If you're uncertain about the gender, you should, perhaps, rethink your choice of traveling companions.

Because, by early 2010 for domestic and late 2010 for international travelers, your documents and your boarding pass must be twins -- to the letter.


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