Here’s how to miss your dream vacation to Greece

Want to miss your dream vacation? Then just do what Ralph Lantz did. He booked a flight for his dear friend to meet him in Greece. But all of her Mediterranean plans suddenly ended at the check-in counter. There, an insurmountable passport problem revealed itself — the name on her passport did not match her ticket.

Now Lantz wants to know how he can get his money back for this aborted trip.

This story is a sad tale of an avoidable travel-related fiasco and underscores the importance of self-booking vigilance. If you don’t involve a travel agent in your planning, the onus is on you to ensure that the name on your ticket matches your passport — precisely. Because if you don’t, you (or in this case your friend) won’t be going anywhere.

A big passport problem

Lantz contacted our advocacy team in outrage at Virgin Atlantic for not allowing his friend to fly to Greece.

“I feel I was ripped off for almost $1,000 by Virgin Atlantic,” Lantz lamented. “When she tried to check in, the airline refused to allow her to board. She is a 50-year old woman who ended up crying her eyes out in the airport because she was not going to be able to make her dream vacation.”

Lantz said that he and his friend knew for some time that the name on her ticket did not match her passport. He told us that he had called the airline and Orbitz to alert both companies of the passport problem. For this reason, he believed that the responsibility for his self-booking mistake had transferred to the airline and the OTA.

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“The ticket had the name I have always known her as, Jackie. But her passport said Jacqueline,” Lantz reported. “We found the problem almost a week before the flight and contacted Orbitz and Virgin Atlantic to correct. Virgin Atlantic refused to change the name because of policy.”

Airline policy

Yes, the old pesky policy that all airlines share about changing names on tickets. For the most part, it can’t be done. Or I should say, it isn’t done. I’m sure that it could be quite easy to change the digital record on a ticket. But airlines don’t allow for it, citing security reasons. However, a cynical person might conclude that the reason is more financial than security-based. Charging for name changes is a revenue source for all airlines — and some more than others.

Virgin Atlantic’s name correction policies, though, are actually some of the most liberal that I’ve encountered. In fact, their website says that name changes of up to three letters are free for ticketed passengers.

But our advocacy team has seen complaints where airlines have charged hundreds and even thousands of dollars to correct names in which only a few characters are incorrect. Gary Palmer got hit with a $400 change fee after his ticket noted his name as Talmer. And last year, I tried to advocate a case with Air New Zealand in which a passenger booked his son’s ticket in his nickname. Despite my pleas to an executive at Air New Zealand for a reasonable resolution, the airline charged this consumer over $2,000 to correct the ticket.

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And so our advocacy team is familiar with this type of passport problem and the anguish that a mismatched passport and ticket combo can cause for a traveler.

Don’t want to miss your dream vacation?

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss your dream vacation under these circumstances, it’s imperative to verify that your ticket matches your passport. And you must make this verification within the first 24-hours after purchase. These 24-hours are when, for most airlines, you can cancel without penalty if you need to make corrections. Then you’re free to rebook in the correct name.

Side note: The Department of Transportation’s 24-hour rule requires all airlines that sell tickets in the United States to allow passengers to cancel purchased tickets within 24-hours after purchase or allow for a 24-hour hold, but not both. So travelers should be extra vigilant when using an airline such as Turkish Airlines, that still allows for a 24-hour hold and not a 24-hour cancellation.

The unfortunate outcome

Lantz contended that because he let Orbitz and Virgin Atlantic know of his mistake a week before the flight, the airline should have allowed his friend to fly to Greece.

“We accepted our responsibility for making sure the name was correct,” Lantz told me. “I made an effort well in advance of the flight to correct the error, but at every turn the airline refused.”

But the airline told Orbitz and Lantz that it would not change the name on his friend’s ticket. At that point, there was only one way to avoid the sad ending that eventually came to fruition. But it’s an expensive way: Cancel the ticket, pay the change fee and fare differential and rebook at a walk-up fare. This resolution could quickly add thousands of dollars to a dream vacation.

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Since the ticket still did not match her passport, it’s unclear why on the day of the flight, Lantz’ friend believed she was on her way to Greece.

No airline will allow a passenger to fly internationally when their passport and ticket don’t match.

So although it is a sad ending to this tale, this case must land in the Case Dismissed file. Self-bookers beware: There are no refunds due when a passenger is denied boarding because of a passport problem.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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