You say Nassim, I say Nacim. Alitalia says: Let’s call the whole thing off.

By | February 15th, 2016

Nassim Baci couldn’t believe it when Alitalia refused to let him fly from Istanbul, where he lives with his wife and daughter, to Algiers. Baci planned to spend a week with his extended family, whom he hadn’t seen in a year. He booked his ticket, which included a change of planes in Rome, on Alitalia’s website.

There was just one small, problematic detail.

Baci, whose name is Arabic, writes his name in Arabic letters. When he writes his name in Roman letters, such as on an airline ticket, he sometimes spells his first name “Nassim” and sometimes spells it “Nacim.” In this case, he booked his ticket using the spelling “Nassim,” but his passport bears the name “Nacim.”

Despite the fact that his passport photo and fingerprint matched his physical characteristics, the Alitalia agent in Istanbul refused to let Baci board the flight.

The agent’s solution? Purchase new tickets.

Baci had spent 230 euros for his original itinerary, and the last-minute replacement fare was offered at 550 euros. Unfortunately for Baci, that was a price increase he was simply unable to absorb.

Baci did not take this news very well. He had planned for months on seeing his family, and he traveled three hours from his home to get to the airport in Istanbul.

To make matters worse, Baci felt that the agent was discriminating against him because of his Arabic name. He reports that there is anti-Arab sentiment in Turkey, particularly in light of the recent humanitarian crisis and arrival of Syrian refugees to the country.

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He confronted the Alitalia agent about his perceived treatment, and the agent denied any type of discrimination. She assured him she was simply observing airline protocol, according to which the name on the passport and ticket must match — exactly.

Front line agents are generally not empowered to make changes to the flight manifest, especially not in the hours leading up to departure. Had Baci been allowed to board the flight, he may have had bigger problems with customs and immigration at international borders during his journey. It is much easier for an airline to apply the rules in a strict fashion, instead of creating a risk that a passenger might have problems during his or her travels due to inconsistencies in documents.

We contacted Alitalia on Baci’s behalf, and they offered to reissue the same tickets for him within a year of his purchase date, or January 2017. Alitalia is imposing a 60 euro “penalty” to reissue the tickets.

I actually felt bad for Baci. By a simple human error, he had to abandon his plans to travel to Algiers, and instead, returned home, defeated. The mistake he made caused him to miss his family trip, and I thought that was penalty enough.

I asked Alitalia to waive the fee in consideration of my argument, but the airline didn’t agree. Alitalia insisted that the offer to reissue his tickets with a 60 euro penalty is as good as they can do. Baci will rebook his trip when his schedule allows, taking advantage of the offer.

Baci shared his disappointment with me. “I guess this is the best we can do, but it’s better than losing everything,” he wrote. “But was this entirely my mistake? This really had an effect on me.”

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In the world we live in, global airlines are sensitive to document inconsistencies for security reasons. This is also true in the United States, where TSA agents are rigid in their documentation requirements, in line with the Secure Flight program.

Most people, regardless of the circumstances, experience feelings of embarrassment and humiliation when they are denied boarding. Freedom of movement is something that we don’t appreciate enough, and when it is taken from us, we feel threatened to our core.

I believe Baci’s is not an Arabic experience, but a human experience.

  • Benjamin Barnett

    Sorry, this IS the passenger´s fault. Use the name that’s in your passport, for Pete’s sake. Common sense!

  • hikergirl57

    I agree, I often travel to countries that do no use the english alphabet. And I see the same streets spelled phonetically many different ways. BUT it is really clear in the rule – your ticket name MUST match your passport name. And living there – he would be aware of that.

  • Lee

    I feel badly for him but it is so clear when purchasing that you must enter the name as it appears on one’s passport. Glad he got somewhat of a break but this was the fault of the passenger and expecting corporations to bend their rules all the time is a fantasy.

  • Bill___A

    Why bring this into the discussion?
    “To make matters worse, Baci felt that the agent was discriminating against him because of his Arabic name. He reports that there is anti-Arab sentiment in Turkey, particularly in light of the recent humanitarian crisis and arrival of Syrian refugees to the country.”

    Clearly it is an issue of the wrong name. Although I agree that the airlines should be more permissive about “corrections” than name changes, the point is that if he “sometimes” types his name the way it is on his passport and “sometimes” types his name with a different spelling than on his passport, it is not a “racism” issue, it is the issue of making sure your name on your ticket matches your name on your passport.

    A case in point being my common name “Bill” which is short for “William”. I have to make sure that the proper name is on my tickets. Every time. And if there isn’t, there’s nobody to blame but me.

    Although I’m glad he got somewhat of a break, I am sorry he went through the grief. He and he alone is the one who can prevent this from happening in the future.

  • sirwired

    To answer his question, yes it really WAS entirely his mistake. (As have been all of these: “My ID doesn’t match my ticket cases”)

    60 EUR to make the change seems to be a little high, but not unreasonably so.

  • Alan Gore

    I betcha that in this case the passport name IS IN ARABIC. What Romanization convention should the passenger use in that case? Do the mindless procedure followers who pull “policy” out of their colons when the slightest problem occurs get to use any excuse they want to stick it to another hapless traveler?

  • Annie M

    The airline did nothing wrong. The customer needs to make sure he buys tickets as the name appears on the passport. Had he not made this mistake, there wouldn’t have been any need for him to interact with the agent, thus saving him his perceived discrimination claim. Telling a passenger his name has to match his passport is NOT discrimination.

  • sirwired

    An Arabic passport still must meet ICAO standards for passport design, which includes the name in a “Romanized” form. Passports have not yet picked up Unicode, so full worldwide character sets are not available. (Not even European accent letters are available, much less the full Arabic alphabet!)

    Likewise the ticket itself (which also must meet ICAO standards), will have the name in Romanized form.

  • Benjamin Barnett

    Algerian passports are written in Arabic, French, and English. I lived in the Gulf area for 4 years – I’ve seen all kinds of passports, and I have never seen one that didn’t have either English or French, no matter where it originated.

  • Lindabator

    He clearly states he sometimes uses Nassim, but his PASSPORT shows Nacim – so that is what he needed to travel under

  • sirwired

    On another note, if the post you are responding to represents “mindless procedure followers”, does that make your response as coming from a “mindless customer apologist”, who “pulls ‘common sense’ out of his colon whenever a customer does something boneheaded to use any excuse to stick it to the man?”

    You’d argue of course that siding with the customer is well-reasoned and comes out of carefully considering both sides. But really, stereotyping people that you disagree with as some sort of automaton-like brainless horde is just a variety of ad hominem attack.

  • Grant Ritchie

    As is your slap at Alan. Please knock it off, guys. You’re both valued commenters, and the last thing we want is to have to start deleting comments.Thanks.

  • Alan Gore

    So why didn’t the Alitalia gate agent change the name under the airline’s own rules for EUR 60, rather than making the passenger buy a new ticket at the walkup price?

    Sorry, but I’ll proudly ‘pull common sense out of my colon’ when confronted with a situation like this. In front of airline personnel, it’s like waving garlic at witches.

  • Robert T.

    “…a 60 euro penalty is as good as they can do.”

    Nonsense. They say this as if it is a statutory requirement. These policies were not created by law, and they were not handed down on stone tablets. People make them, and people can mitigate their impact on travelers who mean and do not harm.

  • Chris Johnson

    You know, while the passenger would have avoided this problem by using the name on the passport to book the ticket, I find it amusing that Alitalia had no problem selling him a walkup fare ticket, right there and then, and without applying any part of the original ticket to the new fare. If there really was a security problem here, they wouldn’t have allowed him to board the flight at all, no matter what he paid and flagged his passport number for future flights. Instead there’s just a huge element of greed on the airline’s part here, despite the passenger’s screwup. Security – yeah, right. This is Alitalia’s attempt at cashing in on a passenger’s mistake, though they wouldn’t be the only airline to do it.

  • Éamon deValera

    My father’s name is Rúaidhrí, in English most people would write it as Rory. He can’t interchange them on airline tickets, he has to use the one on his passport (even if the reservation systems make it Ruaidhri without the accents). I’m fairly certain that if he bought a ticket with Rory on from Alitalia they wouldn’t discriminate against him for being Arabic, just for not having he proper name on the ticket.

  • Éamon deValera

    Certainly they can, but should they? If he were hit by a bus perhaps the compassionate thing to do would be to waive any fees. He simply didn’t copy his name from his passport to the reservation screen, does that rate the same level of compassion?

  • Fishplate

    I would think that the gate agent doesn’t have the ability to take responsibility for changing the name on a ticket at the last minute.

    Surely there is someone at the airport that could do it, if it could be done. Maybe it’s a function of the short time until departure?

  • KarlaKatz

    I, too, am bemused… two of my favs “having at it”… tsk, tsk. And, both with truly salient points.

  • Alan Gore

    That Gaelic name brings up still another “encoding” problem, as we call it in IT. If, when father is making an online reservation, what if there is no ú on the keyboard he happens to be using? Nassim’s name was spelled in a non-Roman character set, so he had to pick a Romanization and stick it, besides hoping that the rest of the world agreed on the same Romanization. But even if you are a European other than a Greek, you are highly likely to have a native alphabet that is Roman with a few additional characters.

    So if your name contains an accent character or A-ring or thorn, and the hotel keyboard you are reserving from doesn’t have this character, you may find yourself just as much at the mercy of an upsell-mad airport gate agent as Mr. Nassim was.

  • JewelEyed

    Um, don’t they have to verify stuff like that prior to the flight? How would changing it at the gate, even if the agent was able to do so, provide enough time for that?

  • JewelEyed

    Um. No. Nacim was on his passport. All 5 of those letters are in the system. He didn’t have to just pick one and go with it, he had the legal Romanized spelling of his name ON HIS LEGAL ID.

  • cscasi

    And, as I assume you well know, if Alitalia allowed him through with the name that did not match his passport, it could be fined big time by immigration and also the person could be refused entry into the country Alitalia was flying him to. If so, Alitalia would be responsible to return him to the country from which he left. So, I understand why ticket counter agents follow the rules and they are not sticking it to yet another hapless traveler by doing so. Something like that could cause the agent to lose his/her job.

  • MarkKelling

    Wouldn’t “waving garlic at vampires” be more fitting? :-)

  • John McDonald

    is that name Osama or Obama? Only 1 letter difference.

  • LonnieC

    The difference is that one was a shot at a system and a large, anonymous group of people and the way the writer feels they apply rules. The other was a personal slap….

  • LonnieC

    I would imagine that this is a fairly common issue, especially for women of a certain age in the US. My wife uses both her given middle name and her maiden name as her middle name, preferring slightly her maiden name for that purpose. However, we know there is simply no choice but to use her given middle name for official purposes, including passports and airplane tickets. Perhaps this requirement should, in some way, be made very prominent on the websites of every vendor of tickets and on the official US State Department passport site. All caps perhaps?

  • AAGK

    He asks if this is entirely his mistake. Well who else’s mistake could it be? I find his level of indignation off putting as well as his ridiculous accusations of the agent doing her job.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Yes, no, maybe so… the thing is, shots AND slaps so often spin out of control around here that Chris has appointed Will Leeper and I “bud-nippers in complete charge.” We offend all… without fear or favor. :-)

  • LonnieC

    Glad to hear it. ?

  • JewelEyed

    Actually, there is a choice. She could make her maiden name her legal middle name but continue to sign with her given and maiden name as her middle names on unofficial correspondence, she could hyphenate, she could do a lot of things. I’m fairly certain that for pre-check, it tells you quite clearly to enter your name exactly as it appears on your ID. However, even smart people don’t read sometimes. I had to make my guy correct his info when he foolishly put the wrong name in for pre-check AND his flight. It’s similar to someone putting “Matt Jones” instead of “Matthew Jones”, so it’s not like his nickname is unrelated to his name, but his legal name is not “Matt”. :/

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