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I See You Have A Ticket, But Is That Your Name?

By travelanswerman | October 20, 2009

By JOE SHARKEY
The New York Times
I WOULD rather be whacked upside the head with a baseball bat than make a trip to either the state motor vehicle department or the federal passport office.

 

Chris Gash

But I see a potential problem coming up that may require such a trip. A new federal initiative called Secure Flight requires that the name on the ID you use at the airport security checkpoint precisely match the name on your airline ticket. Secure Flight takes effect for domestic passengers early next year and for international passengers by the end of 2010.

So if you use your driver’s license and it says John T. Smith, your ticket must also say John T. Smith — not John Thomas Smith, not Jack Smith, or any other name variant.

Usually, a driver’s license uses first name, middle initial and last name, and that’s generally how someone books a ticket. But it can vary. On one airline, my boarding pass always says Sharkey/JosephMMr. and on another I am just Joe Sharkey. Still another airline insists that my name is Sharkey/Jose P.

But my passport declares that I am Joseph Michael Sharkey.

The government and the airlines assure me that this will work. All I have to do is make sure to reserve a ticket under the name on the ID I use, and also to make sure that my other airline data, including frequent-flier program information, matches up. Meanwhile, I just got e-mail from Avis reminding me that my name in their profile account should be “consistent across all your travel reservations” to ensure “a stress-free experience.”

The Transportation Security Administration is starting the program to deal with a problem that has haunted it for years: innocent passengers being delayed and questioned at airport check-in because their names match or approximate the name of someone on the terrorist watch lists. As part of the new initiative, you will also need to provide your birth date and gender when making a reservation.

Some airlines are already preparing customers. Last month, for example, American Airlines began requiring customers making reservations to provide their name exactly as it appears on the government-issue ID they will use for travel, as well as gender and date of birth.

Travel agents and corporate managers have been working with airlines and the T.S.A. “I’m not picking up much confusion from travel managers,” said Kevin Mitchell, the chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. He said that the biggest potential for confusion is the need to make sure all of your data match up with the name you travel under.

Under Secure Flight, the federal government will have a single version of your name on file, along with your gender and age. That same information is supposed to be on your boarding pass. The problem could be if your passport or driver’s license has a different version of your name, which could delay you while your identity is verified against the watch list.

So “it could be in your interest to ultimately change your driver’s license” to match the name on your passport, said Paul M. Ruden, the senior vice president for legal and industry affairs at the American Society of Travel Agents.

Travel agents are working to update clients’ data to head off problems once Secure Flight takes effect. “We’re training our people on things like, how do you respond when the customer says, ‘Why do you want my date of birth? You never asked me that before,’ ” he said.

Mr. Ruden added, “You’ve got to get the information in the records and get it right.”

Easy enough when your name is something like Mary Jones. But someone like Deborah Weixl, a frequent traveler who is on the staff of the American Bar Association in Chicago, has to be prepared, as does her boyfriend and frequent travel companion, Greg Sztatman.

“We booked a flight for next month and we made sure we have everything matching,” she said. “I’ve changed my Orbitz account for work, and with my American Airlines and United mileage, and I have to do Delta next. Now I’m Deborah Gail Weixl and he’s Gregory Sztatman.”

Let’s not even consider the potential for data-entry typing mistakes there. What has Ms. Weixl concerned is that the last time they flew together, a clerk gave Mr. Sztatman the wrong boarding pass, yet he sailed through security until it was discovered at the gate that the name on his ticket said Brandi Szablewski.

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