Can you persuade South African Airways to fix my name on my ticket?


Christopher Knott-Craig makes a tiny mistake when he books his tickets to South Africa — he inadvertently adds an extra letter H to his name. If you are a regular reader of our site, then you know how this story ends — or do you?

Question: Several months ago I booked tickets for my entire family to travel to South Africa.The reason for all my panic? I just noticed that my ticket was booked with an extra “h” in my first name (Chhristopher instead of Christopher).

I called South African Airways and asked for help, and the representative confirmed that I can’t fly with a ticket that doesn’t match my passport.

I’ve read through countless stories on your site about typos and misspelled names, and I found that in many, if not most, of these you were able to facilitate a resolution with the respective airline. What can be done? Christopher Knott-Craig, New York

Answer: Oh boy, while I certainly appreciate your confidence in our advocacy abilities, the reality of our success rate with your particular problem is actually quite grim.

Most cases like yours end up in the case dismissed file. And that isn’t because we haven’t tried.

In fact, I can only recall one case in which an airline agreed to adjust the name on a ticket after the initial 24 hours.

Take a look at some of the “incorrect-name-on-my-ticket” cases in our forum and I think the dire nature of your situation will come into focus.

For example, Lou discovered that he had made a $900 error when he booked his ticket using his nickname. And unfortunately, when booking a dream trip to Ireland, Ezzirah’s husband used her middle name as a first name.

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In general, you have 24 hours post-purchase to carefully examine your tickets and verify that your name matches your passport — exactly. After that, every major airline has the same formula to correct your problem

And the solution isn’t free — not even close. You will be expected to cancel, make a new reservation, and pay a change fee and any increase in the cost of the ticket.


A misspelled or incorrect name can cause big problems at the airport. In a worst-case scenario you could be denied boarding or be forced to buy a new ticket at the walk-up price.

In an attempt to avoid any hassles at check in, you had already contacted South African Airways on your own and asked if this extra letter H could be problematic.

The SAA representative reiterated that your ticket must match your passport and that your only option was to cancel and rebook.

Further complicating matters? Your entire family was listed on the same record locator, which would mean that all tickets would need to be canceled and rebooked. However, SAA was kind enough to separate your ticket from your family’s so as to mitigate the new costs.

But you were under the impression that we have had tremendous success with these type of cases, so you decided to contact us before canceling and paying the additional fees.

We receive a multitude of requests each month from consumers asking us to contact airlines on their behalf to correct a spelling mistake on a ticket.

The fact is that airlines do not change spelling mistakes — no matter how minor. If you make a spelling mistake and do not correct it within the first 24 hours, you will find yourself in a predicament that is going to cost you.

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Unless there is some type of unique extenuating circumstance, we don’t typically present these cases to the airlines — because we already know the answer.

But as I stared at your ticket, with that unnecessary (and potentially expensive) letter H, common sense won me over and I decided to contact SAA to ask if it could be possible to simply delete that letter from your ticket — without incurring any fees.

And to my surprise, I found a sensible SAA executive who immediately responded that the airline would be willing to work this out directly with you. She took your information and soon after contacted you to resolve this problem.

While she was not able to simply delete that letter H, she was able to cancel and rewrite your ticket with your correct name.

And the best part?

South African Airways rebooked your ticket at the original rate and did not charge you a change fee.

This is fabulous news to you and to us. It is always satisfying to find a company executive who is fair-minded and wants to help.

I hope you and your family enjoy South Africa — it’s a beautiful country. And now we know it has a reasonable and helpful national airline. Happy travels!


Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • Bill___A

    Well done, but it amazes me how it is so difficult generally to fix spelling errors.

  • Sue Smith

    The airlines are free to charge us whatever they want for small errors that take an agent minutes to fix. I think a reasonable fee would be $10-$15 – a small amount for their trouble. We need more people to lobby for consumers rights on airlines…..we should have the right to comfortable seating, the right to correct ticketing errors (our fault or theirs) the right to not be forcibly ejected from our seat…… I could go on for days, but you get the idea.

  • Alan Gore

    The technical, or IT cost of fixing a name error is negligible, the main overhead being verifying the identity of the person making the request. The whole baroque song and dance of canceling the reservation and creating a new one is purely an airline gouge.

  • Lindabator

    no – goes back to the fraud issue — so they take a hard line. And keep in mind that the general res agents CANNOT just blithely break the rules as thy risk losing their jobs doing so

  • Lindabator

    could EASILY have been fixed within 24 hours – but that means taking the responsibility of actually CHECKING – and somehow, they never do that

  • Lindabator

    its not the point – it is a fraud deterant — and of course, if he had BOTHERED to check immediately, has 24 hours to fix it

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    What precise fraud “deterant” [sic deterrent] could be committed by a request to change Chhristopher Knott-Craig to Christopher Knott-Craig? A resale to the plethora of Chhristopher Knott-Craigs out there, hoping to buy a cheap ticket to South Africa? Offending a religion that holds the letter “h” in high esteem?

    The rule is patently unreasonable in this case, and I congratulate South African Airways for recognizing reality.

  • Michael__K

    Actually, SAA already has a policy for name corrections (as do a number of other airlines), and it should be possible to correct a spelling error at a cost of 50 GBP. Even without an advocate.

    The passengers’ full first name and surname as issued on the travel document must be used when the booking is created. If the name is misspelled, a new ticket must be issued and the incorrect ticket should be submitted for a full refund via BSP Link, less an admin fee of GBP50.00 and indicating the new ticket number.

    http://flysaatrade.com/uk/a-z/changes-to-bookings

  • Alan Gore

    Verifying the identity of the ticketholder works the same way whichever way the change is handled, so actual fraud is not the reason for breaking and making a new reservation.

    When a name change is fixed for free during the 24-hour window the airline makes the change for free because it is required to – and in this case also, it loses nothing. It also validates the ticketholder in the same way.

    What airlines mean by “fraud” as you define it is a passenger intentionally transferring a ticket to another person. This should be one of our basic rights for non-refundables.

  • jsn55

    Very glad you went to bat for this guy, Michele. The fact that SAA wouldn’t change the tix for a truly obvious typo is absolutely DISGUSTING. How long are we supposed to put up with this greedy behaviour? Until all the airline lobby lawyers retire I suspect. Few things get me enraged more than these arbitrary airline rules set up to cheat their customers.

  • jsn55

    Two “h”s in Christopher? Ridiculous, just a money grab.

  • Robin

    What amazes me is how many people find it difficult to spell their own name.

  • KanExplore

    I can’t agree about that last point. I think there is a real security problem there, not just the security theatre stuff we see so much of.

    But setting that aside, there’s also the issue of development of a secondary market in tickets. Ticket brokers would spring up to snap up tickets in the low fare buckets and then resell them at a profit when only higher fare seats are available to the public. Buy up all the $299 seats and resell them at $375 when the price to the public goes to $399. That’s very difficult to do now because those cheap seats are non-refundable and don’t allow name changes. It would become the norm if the tickets were transferrable, to the detriment of the general public but to the lucrative benefit of the brokers.

    I don’t disagree that the amount of the change fee is often extreme.

  • The Original Joe S

    Once again someone taking the side of the obdurate vendor against the consumer………….

  • The Original Joe S

    but deleting an “h” in the name doesn’t have anything to do with your posting

  • The Original Joe S

    correct

  • The Original Joe S

    well, they came up thru the US education system, so that should answer your musing………

  • The Original Joe S

    ha ha ha ha ha! You TOAD! How DARE you try to inject LOGIC into the discussion??????????????????

  • The Original Joe S

    Cheat is the operative word here. That’s why I love when they are FORCED to honor a mistake in posted fares!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alan Gore

    There’s no security problem because qualifying the pax for flight is the TSA’s job, not the airline’s. Assume the worst case: I book a nonrefundable ticket, find I can’t go, and then eBay it to Osama bin Ladin. Whichever passenger presents at the airport, TSA is who vets that person for security.

    And since the one thing that airlines are really good at is running software that determines on a very fine scale what the market will bear, no individual or ticket resale operation is going to beat them at reselling for a profit. When you buy up tickets for resale, you are wagering that you are better than the original seller at determining the resale. Nobody in the world is going to take that bet.

  • KanExplore

    Indeed the airlines do have very sophisticated yield management, but all their research and design elements for that are based on the rules that are in place. People’s behaviors would change in major ways if they knew non-refundable tickets could be transferred. I know mine would, and I suppose yours would too.

    I was only offering an example. Speculating with their own money would only be part of it. A secondary market would also trade in “unload your ticket” deals. The existence of that option would mean that people who currently need to wait to buy a seat until they know for sure who will travel and when (businesses for example) would be able to buy seats speculatively far ahead of time at the cheapest prices, knowing they could trade on the secondary market if plans change. So the current sophisticated yield management system that, for example, targets leisure travelers with low nonrefundable fares 11 months out, and business travelers with stratospheric fares 11 hours out, would not work.

    Airlines would generate less money per ticket (because it is only the business travelers who would be willing to pay sky high fares, but now wouldn’t need to); leisure travelers would often be crowded out; some businesses would see travel costs go down; and others would make money reselling seats.

  • Alan Gore

    If any scheme of ticket resale existed that could produce net money, that algorithm would already be incorporated into airline yield management code. In fact, any secondary market would be carefully watched for evidence that a money-making resale scheme existed find one, and the yield management software would be immediately updated.

    How do I know this? Because in this state, all in-state event tickets, from garden shows to the Super Bowl, can be freely resold. Ticket brokers make money on commissions. If event operators see consistent net money being made on resales, they adjust the prices for their next game or concert accordingly.

  • jsn55

    Then the front-line people need instant access to supervisors who CAN fix this foolishness. It’s a money-grab, pure and simple.

  • John McDonald

    Why ? Try flying internationally on a ticket not in your name

  • John McDonald

    Hardly. Could be a terrorist on some no fly list trying to get around that list

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