Fire your travel agent

/ Source: Special to

The name on your airline ticket is wrong - it's your husband's last name, not yours. But instead of fixing it, your travel agent wants you to buy a new ticket for $450. When you balk at that, he recommends that you just change your last name to fit the ticket. With only a few weeks until her vacation, is this air traveler out of options? Find out who is responsible for an incorrect name - and what this traveler can do to make things right. Plus, learn how an incorrect name on your ticket can ruin your next vacation.

Q: My husband bought airline tickets from Chicago to Puerto Vallarta on Continental Airlines through his travel agent, who is an old friend. But my ticket was issued with my husband's surname, even though I did not change my name when I got married 18 years ago.

When I notified the agent of the error, he suggested that I get my drivers license and passport changed to reflect my husband's surname. I told him that was unacceptable. I mean, would he make the same suggestion to my husband if the tickets had been issued with my surname?

The agent says he can't change the name without buying a new ticket, which would cost $450.

I spoke with Continental, and it has agreed to make a notation in my record regarding the erroneous name. My travel agent says he will "try" to get this in writing, so that I will have something by the time I have to go to the airport.

But I'm concerned with airport security. I may be able to fly, but may not be admitted to the terminal. I have a copy of my marriage certificate. What else can I do?

-- Marguerite Warner

A: First of all, fire your travel agent.

Here's why. Number one, your agent assumed you shared a surname with your husband. A competent travel counselor - and particularly one that you consider a friend - would make it his business to know that you had a different last name.

Second, your agent stuck you with the bill. That's highly unprofessional. It was his mistake; he should have fixed it.

And third, as a "solution" your agent recommended you change your last name to match the ticket. As if it's something you should have done, anyway. How chauvinistic.

Needless to say, a professional travel agent makes sure the name on your ticket is right, doesn't ask you pay for his errors and doesn't offend you by suggesting your marriage should conform to some 19th Century convention.

Do yourself another favor: don't become "old friends" with your agent. Be friendly, be polite, but keep the relationship professional. Otherwise, you could get taken advantage of.

I just wrapped up a case in which a clever agent leveraged her friendship with a client and stuck the traveler with a ticket penalty she should have paid. It was deeply troubling, painful and in the end, unsolvable.

Not to let you off the hook, here. Your husband should have asked your agent to e-mail or fax him a copy of your itinerary immediately and examined it for any possible problems. In the time between a ticket is purchased and a ticket is issued, or "settled," your agent can make a change to your ticket without incurring any penalties. That would have solved your problem.

Your concern about being allowed on the plane is legitimate. Not only could you get stopped when you check in. Before you reach the TSA checkpoint, your ticket is checked against your ID by a private security guard. If it doesn't match, you could get turned away.

Continental, like every other major carrier, won't let you change a name on a ticket even if it's an honest mistake. However, as a gesture of goodwill, the airline generously agreed to fix your ticket.

I think you should also consider asking your agent to return your ticketing fee. He didn't earn it.