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Names and passports and what it all means


4 min read

You may not have been blessed with a famous name like Angelina Jolie, but did you know that getting your name 100% correct on your air ticket could be the difference between you taking to the skies or not?

If your flight booking, for whatever reason, reflects a different name to that in your passport or ID, even it is only slightly misspelled, you may have to pay a hefty sum, up to 100% of the ticket price to have it fixed, or worst-case scenario, you will not be able to travel at all.

So, why exactly is your name so important to airlines? The Association of Southern African Travel Agents sets out to explain this important rule to ensure that you #TravelwithPeaceofMind.

It’s the law

More often than not, airlines in their terms in conditions state that tickets purchased are non-refundable and non-transferable.

This means that you cannot change the name on the air ticket. The ticket actually has to be cancelled and a new ticket purchased. If the rule is that the ticket is non-refundable, you’ll forfeit the entire amount you paid as a result.

There are good reasons why airlines won’t change the name on an air ticket:

1.Law and security

Airlines are governed by international laws and with terrorism posing a serious threat to travellers globally, airlines need to do everything in their power to ensure security onboard their flights.

For some more perspective on this, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which supports aviation with global standards for airline safety, security, efficiency and sustainability, only allows three letters to be changed in the instance of a spelling mistake. For this reason, in order to change a name, an airline must cancel and rebook a ticket.

Some flexibility however is to be found in domestic travel. If you’ve made a mistake in your first name, you can present your driver’s licence, which only shows your initial and last name, as identification. This does not however, apply to your surname or if you are travelling internationally when you are required to travel with your passport as proof of identity.

2.Revenue Defense

Back in the day when it was still possible to transfer air tickets, there were very often incidents of so-called consolidators who would zoom in on cheap airfares, purchase them and then resell them, ultimately taking control away from the airlines in adjusting tickets prices according to their own supply and demand.

Thus, airlines want to ensure that travellers do not buy up all the cheap tickets in advance to re-sell them the day before the flight at much higher prices.

Hyphens and middle-names

It is not just spelling mistakes and full name changes that may pose a problem to your future air travel plans, hyphenated names and middle-names should make you have a second look at your booking.

While most airlines require you to book your ticket according to the exact name that appears in your passport or ID, it is not always possible as some airlines’ booking systems do not have space to enter a middle name. In most instances, your first and last names are all that really matters. However, do check with your travel agent, or the airline if there is any doubt.

Also keep in mind that airline booking systems do not recognise spaces, hyphens or apostrophes, and so if you have recently made a booking and you did include your middle name even if it was not necessary, the system will automatically link both names together to form one word. Check-in agents are used to this, and can just as easily identify Sarah Jane as they can Sarahjane.

The same applies to double-barrel names and surnames. If your name is Jennifer-Ann, or your surname is Jolie-Pitt, the booking system will merge the two names and the hyphen will not appear on your flight ticket. However, booking agents will be familiar with this and you should not have any trouble at check-in.

Useful tips

• Always ensure that you provide your booking agent with the correct spelling of your full name and surname as stated in your ID document or passport.
• In the event that you do get married and you change your surname after a booking has already been made, consult with your travel agent on the best direction to follow and do not try to take it upon yourself to make any big changes. It is normally safest to make all bookings in your maiden surname (just for a little bit longer) until you have reapplied for documents under your new surname.
• Do not try your luck. When airlines say non-refundable and non-transferable, they mean it. Regardless of how valid your reason may be to change a ticket, expect the airline to apply all penalties, fees and increased fares.
• Always review your confirmation after purchase. If you find an error, contact the airline or travel agency immediately. Very often, you may only have 48 or 24-hours in which you are allowed to make any changes.
• Always book your travel through a reliable travel agent. Not only will it save you on deciphering all the different rules and regulations of air travel, but your agent will be more than capable to deal with name changes and a lot more.

Jeanette Briedenhann
Jeanette Briedenhann
Jeanette Phillips joined the team in 2016. She developed a passion and love for all things-travel related in her role as travel journalist, a position she held for over seven years. A brief exodus into the corporate marketing sphere proved that there is no better industry than the travel industry. Research and writing are two of Jeanette’s greatest passions, but she is always open to new challenges and different ways of doing things.

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