What happens when travelers don’t put their middle name in international reservations?
When making reservations for a trip to Europe, I had an opportunity to purchase a flash sale airfare for myself and a friend. The normal price of $1,000 had been reduced to $700 for a several-hour window. I did not know my friend’s middle name but wanted to purchase the tickets. I believed that because of the 24-hour rule, I could always change the middle name. The rule isn’t quite that simple. I learned an important middle-name rule.
When I called Air France about two hours later to add the middle name to the record, I learned that I had to first cancel my ticket and then I could rebook the flight. Normally, this wouldn’t have had such major implications. In this case, both tickets on the PNR had to be canceled and the special flash fare had expired. So, the same tickets purchased only two hours earlier now cost $1,000 apiece rather than $700. Since I knew the missing middle name was not a deal breaker as far as TSA security was concerned, I told Air France that I’d keep the tickets without adding the middle name.
However, Travelers United did file a complaint about the middle-name rule with the Department of Transportation. DOT then filed the complaint with Air France.
Here are rules for the middle-name rule from Air France — well written, clear, slightly edited, and passionless. It is an airline’s way of approaching this important consumer protection rule in what is certainly an anti-consumer protection manner. It is a lesson where an important battle won by Travelers United regarding the ability to change mistakes on airline tickets — which resulted in the current 24-hour rule — can be twisted a bit to work against, rather than for travelers.
This is in reference to your claim sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Thank you for your confidence in choosing Air France.
We confirm that, after a ticket has been issued, no name change can be made on the ticket in question.
If a client finds that a change should be made, the reservation must be canceled and a new reservation must be made.
For a reservation made in the USA, the refund will be authorized with no penalty (even for non-refundable tickets) if the request is made within 24 hours.
If the request for refund is made after 24 hours, the conditions of the tickets will apply only, and the 24-hour policy will no longer apply.
After a reservation has been cancelled, there is no guarantee indeed that the same fare will be available at the time of the new booking. The fares displayed for future bookings will be the fare available at the time of the new booking.
At the current time, your reservation number is valid.
If there is a mistake in the first name or in the last name, the reservation must be cancelled and a new one must be made at the available fare.
But if the issue is not a mistake in the first name or the last name, but is regarding a middle name which does not appear on the ticket, then this is not a problem:
– provided that the first name and the last name of the passenger correctly show on the ticket, and
– provided that the information you have provided regarding your passport is exactly the same one as the information printed in your passport.
The fact that a middle name does not show on a ticket does not matter, but it is absolutely necessary that the information given to the carrier regarding the passport be the very same one (first name, middle name if any, last name) as what the passport really shows.
If your concern is not regarding a mistake in the first name/last name, but rather an issue with a middle name which appears on the passport, and in order for you to “play on the safe side,” we encourage you to contact Air France reservations and tell them you want to “update your passport information.” There is no fee to update passport information, the name on the ticket itself will not be modified, but your passport information will be updated.
We wish you a pleasant trip.
This middle-name rule escapade had a happy ending. However, the reduced airfare may have been lost if a passenger did not understand the intricacies of TSA’s ID rules and the intent of the 24-hour rule. Travelers United will be following up on this issue with the intent that any errors made during booking can be fixed within the 24-hour window.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.