By Catharine Hamm
11:00 AM EDT, April 7, 2013
Question: A company I was working with booked me on flights using Travelocity. When I was emailed the ticket I noticed I was booked as "Steven," though my legal first name is "Stephen." Knowing Transportation Security Administration regulations and procedures, I attempted to correct the first name — not change any of the flights — by calling all parties involved. After much time on the phone with the airlines and Travelocity, all threw their hands up and advised me that nothing could be done. Fortunately, the company canceled the initial ticketed travel and re-booked me on another airline. Is there a procedure that could have assisted me or others with the same issue?
Answer: If the error was caught within 24 hours of booking, you can probably cancel the ticket without penalty and rebook (although higher fares may apply), thanks to new Department of Transportation rules that give fliers that grace period on an airline ticket purchase.
Other than that, the only procedure that would have assisted Walsh is the one that comes at the beginning of the process. As one whose first name also can be spelled in a number of ways, I feel Walsh's pain. In this case, the pain probably will not be inflicted by the TSA, which says it can live with a one- or two-letter discrepancy in a name, but more likely by the airline, which wants your name to be correct (although it may overlook one or two letters).
It's important that a third party booking for you — even if it's a friend or relative — has a travel bio, as it were, on which your full name (with a red flag that notes it's an unusual spelling), your date of birth, and your gender (three questions you'll always be asked when booking a ticket) appear. If you can deliver said information securely, add your home address, credit card numbers and frequent-flier numbers to your profile.
That's the suggestion of travel expert Mark Murphy of MarkMurphyTravels.com, who says he eats, sleeps and breathes travel. He's a keen industry observer, and he knows what happens: "When you take the booking into your own hands and screw up it up … then that's on you," he says.
Yes, it is. Airlines don't bend much on such issues for the "I'm not celebrity or an elite flier" folks, which is most of us leisure travelers. Why? "You're one person of 1.7 million people flying that day," Murphy says. "How big a voice do you have with that airline if you have to call up and make a change?"
As I've confessed before, I have frequent-flier miles scattered among a bunch of airlines. As a fare hunter, low price is my goal, not airline loyalty. I will never be an elite flier and no one is going to care if my name is wrong or my plans were changed or I booked out of the wrong airport.
Can this flier — or any such flier — be saved?
Murphy says yes, and here's how: Use a travel agent who can help you in such instances. Murphy says as many as half of all airline tickets are booked by travel agents, who can be your friend and ally if something goes amiss.
Travel agents have taken a hit over the years because many of us are self-booking. Maybe you don't need one if you are booking a simple ticket (if there is such a thing), but if it's important to reach your destination, that might be the way to go. The service for this probably won't be free.
I don't spend enough to be considered a VIP traveler, so what are the chances anyone wants my business?
Good, Murphy says. Even if you travel only a couple of times a year, your trips can represent commission for that agent.
The trick, of course, is finding a travel agent you click with. Check with friends and family. Check with business travelers whose work is not done by an in-company agent. Go to the American Society of Travel Agents (http://www.asta.org) and use its agent finder. Google that name and see if anything comes up. Google "travel agent" and Yelp, and see what pops up.
Murphy also suggests Tripology.com, which operates a bit like CruiseCompete.com and has agents bidding for your business. (He is developing TravelTribe.com, which will let you, among other features, contact experts on your destination, which presumably includes agents, who can respond to your questions. It is still a work in progress.)
Perhaps the mantra for the flier should be this: To err is human, but it takes people with pull to fix it. If that's not you, it's not what you know but whom you know that counts. Especially if they know how to spell your name.
Have a travel dilemma? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name and city of residence. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times