Does the Secure Flight Program Mean More Money For Airlines?
But Demastrie had been worried that they might be turned away from their flight. When his father booked their tickets through Travelocity as a gift, he typed his daughter-in-law's name as
"I called both Travelocity and United to see if we could get the ticket changed," said Demastrie, a media buyer from
Small discrepancies between the name on a ticket and a passenger's driver's license or passport used to be shrugged off by airlines and airport screeners. But under the
It turns out that there's some wiggle room for errors, though, which isn't always disclosed to air travelers. More on that in a minute.
Airlines sometimes offer to make an electronic notation on an airline reservation that contains a minor error, but they can't guarantee that it will work. The only way to be 100 percent sure, they'll frequently say, is to buy a new ticket with the correct name. In some cases, they'll offer to change the name for a fee. Demastrie was so worried that he bought a fully refundable ticket on another airline, just in case United told his wife that she couldn't fly.
No question, Secure Flight is an opportunity for airlines to make even more money. The airline industry just wrapped up its most profitable year in a decade, in large part by charging so-called "ancillary" fees, such as change fees.
Are airlines exploiting the TSA's stricter name-matching requirements to squeeze even more money out of us?
No, says the industry.
Typically, airlines will correct small errors, such as changing a letter or two, without any questions or surcharges. Beyond that, it's often up to the reservations agent or your travel agent to decide how to solve the problem. And that's where things get a little murky.
"If a Travelocity customer catches a mistake in their name within 24 hours of booking, we will cancel their ticket and reissue" it, says Travelocity spokesman
Frey says that travel agencies would welcome new policies that might allow "reasonable" exceptions and that Travelocity is "encouraging our airline partners to explore the possibilities."
After the one-day window closes, the next best option is a notation in your reservation, which is no assurance that you'll be able to board. Passengers who want a sure thing often find themselves thinking that they have only one choice: to buy a new ticket.
"We asked the check-in people if they could correct it," remembers Wynn, a marketing manager from
After some back-and-forth with the gate agent, Wynn decided to chance it with the TSA.
"The TSA guy didn't even look twice," she says. "I imagine he had other worries."
In fact, Wynn was home free by then. When she arrived at the screening area, her husband's incorrect name had already been checked against a list of potential security threats and had passed. Once passengers receive their boarding passes, the Secure Flight process is already complete, according to the TSA.
Airlines could make it easier to edit tickets if they wanted to.
On Sabre, one of the reservations systems used by travel agents, the Secure Flight passenger data field is separate from the passenger name field, and the TSA doesn't require the two to match.
The information in the passenger data field "can be modified at any time," says company spokeswoman
In other words, passengers wouldn't need to worry about changing the names on their tickets; they would only need to ensure that the field with the Secure Flight passenger data had been changed. That seems like a reasonable compromise, allowing the TSA to pre-screen the passenger and giving air travelers the peace of mind that they'll be allowed to board.
Why don't airlines just let travelers know that the name on their ticket doesn't need to match the name on their ID, only the name on the field that's transmitted to TSA? Clarifying the policy would come as a relief to
"The woman I spoke with made it sound like no big deal," she says. "She said, 'Don't worry about it.' "
But if there's nothing to worry about, then why not put something in writing?
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