An extra ‘e’ and a change fee

/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: I recently booked two airline tickets for my husband, Robert, and myself from Sydney, Australia, to San Francisco through Orbitz. When I received the tickets through Air New Zealand several days later, I realized that I had spelled Robert’s name with two “e’s” — Robeert.

I called Orbitz and Air New Zealand to see if they could fix it and I was told that, after paying a change fee, I needed to send the ticket back and have a new one issued. So I sent it back.

Since then, I’ve called Orbitz numerous times to find out the status of the new ticket. Each time, I’m told that they have the ticket, but I can’t get them to return it. I’ve asked to speak with a supervisor and have even tried to contact an executive, but have gotten nowhere.

Finally, I called Air New Zealand and was told that they could fix the name on the ticket at the airport in Sydney. But Orbitz still has my ticket. Can you help me get it back?
— Mary Wiebusch, Sonoma, Calif.

A: Air New Zealand was right the second time. You shouldn’t have had to send a ticket with a simple and obvious typographic error back to your online agency or airline. In fact, you shouldn’t have to do anything with it at all.

Yes, it’s true that they’ll check the name on your ticket against your passport or ID when you’re at the airport. The airlines say this is for “security reasons” — but those aren’t their only concerns. Most airline tickets are nontransferable, and if someone else could use your ticket, it would deprive the airline of additional revenue.

And there’s another money-related reason: A change fee — usually $100 plus any fare difference — represents a significant amount of income for the airline. Agencies also charge processing fees to alter tickets. In other words, it’s in everyone’s interest — except perhaps yours — to issue a completely new ticket.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should have looked at your screen before you booked the ticket. When you decide to save yourself a few bucks by using an online agent, you have certain responsibilities. Spelling your name correctly is one of them.

But this is one of those times when everyone should have taken a deep breath and asked, “Does an extra “e” on your ticket matter?” Will someone else try to use the ticket — someone named Robeert? Improbably. Will an overzealous TSA agent stop you at security? I can’t imagine that happening. Is an Air New Zealand ticket agent going to stop your husband from boarding? Please. I don’t think so.

I contacted Orbitz on your behalf, and it not only found your ticket but also returned it to you along with its apologies and a $50 goodwill voucher.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,