By Travel columnist
updated 6/3/2005 2:48:54 PM ET 2005-06-03T18:48:54

Michelle-Shari Kruss’ sister-in-law is legally blind, so she makes an airline reservation with the help of an assistant. But the aid types the wrong name for her, setting off a chain of events that end when she’s told her airline ticket is basically worthless. Whose fault is it? What should this passenger have done differently, and how can you make sure you don’t fall into the ticket name trap?

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Q: My sister-in-law, Karen, is legally blind. She made a reservation through Travelocity to fly from Portland, Ore., to Minneapolis, on American Airlines with the assistance of an aid. But the aid entered the incorrect last name on her ticket (she had legally changed her name from Parker to Peterson when she remarried two years ago).

One day after making her reservation, Travelocity sent a confirmation with the incorrect last name for Karen. She called and spoke with a supervisor who claimed that Travelocity could not make any changes and she would need to speak with American Airlines.

American sent her back to Travelocity. Travelocity then claimed that they might be able to make a change, but would charge her $75 (a fee not listed on its site). But then, after researching the matter further, they said that they couldn’t help after all.

I called on Karen’s behalf and again can’t find anyone willing to fix the error.

Can you please help my sister-in-law? Her flight leaves this week.

— Michelle-Shari KrussPortland, Ore.

A: Looks like your sister-in-law has fallen into the ticket name trap, which is possibly the most common pitfall for air travelers these days.

Most airline tickets have been nontransferable since before deregulation. But after 9/11, the airlines insisted that every ticket name match a passenger’s ID to the letter. They said it was for security reasons, but it also meant that a lot of travelers who used a nickname, alias, or initials had to buy completely new airline tickets.

Some airlines, such as Spirit Air and Aer Lingus, allow ticket name changes. But most don’t, and American is no exception.

I think these hard-line policies are wrong, and what’s more, they’re consumer-hostile. Why not let a passenger change a name on a ticket, especially if it’s an error? The airline is losing no money.

At the same time, the airline industry is very open about its strict rules, and so is Travelocity. If Karen’s circumstances weren’t unique, I couldn’t have done anything to help.

But they were. Karen couldn’t read the screen to double-check the name (although next time she books online, she might consider finding someone who knows her last name).

I thought American might consider bending its rules, just this once. And it did. I contacted Travelocity and American, and much to their credit, they fixed your sister-in-law’s trip with time to spare.

Incidentally, a week after resolving Karen’s case, I got a call from a Travelocity representative who told me the company had launched numerous new customer service initiatives. Among them was a tightening of its policy against passing the buck.

If you had called back now, the Travelocity rep you talked with wouldn’t have said, “Call American.” Instead, it would have stayed on the line with you until your problem was resolved. I like that.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


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