“It sounds like criminal activity to me”

Getting a ticket name change can be an uphill climb. / Photo by ykanazawa1999 - Flickr
And now, a little story about names, online travel agencies, airlines and the TSA.

Are you still with me?

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Good. Because this could affect your next trip if you’re not careful.

Joanne Verdon just flew from Sacramento, Calif., to Philadelphia with her family, and learned “a very painful lesson,” she says.

She booked her tickets on United Airlines through Priceline.

“We never noticed until this past week that our friend’s last name showed up as Verdon — the same as mine and my daughter’s,” she says. “When I realized the error, I immediately called United, accepting that I would probably have to pay a $150 fee to change the reservation.”

The rules are no secret: The name of your ticket must match the name on your ID exactly or you won’t be able to fly. That makes sense, because the government checks the names against its “no-fly” list before departure.

It’s also common knowledge that airlines don’t allow name changes on tickets, sometimes even small ones to correct a misspelling. A big one, like changing a last name, is asking a lot, and is rarely granted.

Verdon continues,

United directed me back to Priceline, saying I needed to work with the travel agency. I called Priceline and was told United would have to authorize the name change, so I waited on hold with Priceline while they waited on hold with United.

Finally, Priceline got back on the line with me and said United would not authorize the name change. Per Priceline, United said all they could do was to put a note on the reservation but that would not guarantee that our friend would be able to board.

So neither Priceline nor United could or would help Verdon’s friend.

But wait! There’s more.

Priceline said our other option was to cancel the passenger’s first ticket and repurchase it. In this scenario, we would lose our payment for the first ticket and pay the current higher price for the new ticket and perhaps not have the same itinerary. This all sounded so bogus.

Finally, a United representative agreed to place a notation in the friend’s reservation.

“I asked how it worked and if we would be able to board the airplane,” says Verdon. “He said it depended on the airport.”

Oh, that’s reassuring.

So they went to the airport to get a better answer. A United representative verified that a notation would work. Even the TSA said it would be fine. But that wasn’t enough. Their return flight was on US Airways, and a US Airways manager told them they’d be denied boarding.

When we got home, my daughter called Priceline again, spoke to three different agents and, when they wouldn’t budge, ended up canceling Jonathan’s first reservation, forfeiting the $392 fare, and paying an additional $755 to rebook him on the same flight with the same seat assignments!

And this is all legal? It sounds like criminal activity to me.

You know what? It does to me, too.

Here’s the problem I have: The TSA wasn’t protecting us from terrorists by turning him away – and it wouldn’t have done so, anyway. Also, US Airways and United weren’t protecting their revenues by denying this passenger a name change or preventing him from boarding. They were just being pigheaded.

Priceline could have done more than parrot the airline’s policies. It should have advocated for their customer, which after all, is what travel agents are supposed to do, right?

There has to be a better way to verify a passenger’s identity. For example, if the passenger’s date of birth and phone number and first name are the same, then it’s a pretty good bet he’s the same person, and no one is trying to transfer the name on the ticket, which would theoretically cost the airline revenue.

163 thoughts on ““It sounds like criminal activity to me”

  1. Am I missing something?

    TSA – On one hand Chris says that matching the secure flight info name to the ID makes sense, yet later he said it doesn’t make sense they turned them away. Yet, I don’t see in the OP’s narrative where TSA turned him away. In fact, the OP indicates that TSA at the airport had no problem if the airline noted the the change in the reservation. (This seems odd as the name on the boarding pass must match the name on the ID…not buried in the remarks field of the passengers reservation.)

    1. Sorry to confuse you. TSA has an exact name match requirement, but the agency representative at the airport said the friend would be allowed to fly with a notation. TSA rules can be flexible. So it was really up to the airline and agency to help. I’m not sure if buying a new ticket should have been necessary.

      1. Name matches can be really odd.  I have multiple variations on my name and have never had an issue getting on a plane.  Even my IDs and credit cards have different versions of my name.

        From what I can tell, there is no legal requirement that airlines can’t change a name on a reservation.  Right now it’s more a profit center for many airlines to correct a name.

        Try something like full names where the family names come first (esp Japanese and Chinese names).  That can get interesting.

    2. Really Chris, “The TSA wasn’t protecting us from terrorists by turning him away…” bit is just baiting the TSA-crazies to jump in.  I know they’re an easy target to get going, like a cat playing with a mouse, but any tie to the TSA is so tenuous that it’s not really relevant.  I mean, all the TSA said, was, “sure, it’s OK with us.”

  2. A fake ID would’ve been cheaper. 

    Just head to your local college town, or better yet, order one online from some crafty folks in Europe. I saw this on the news last night…a whole bunch of high school kids got real-looking (complete with holograms) fake IDs from a “company” in Switzerland for $50 each.

    I’m kidding about the fake ID, but not the “business” of them. Scary, huh? These things look so real I’ll bet the TSA hasn’t spotted a single one.

    But seriously…first mistake was using Priceline. Second mistake was not checking the names when entering them or immediately after purchase. Of course they are bulking up their revenues by making people buy dupe tickets. Names matching may be post-9/11, but non-transferable tickets have been around for years. The airlines wanted to make sure THEY had the market, not second hand ticket dealers.

    Just wait until Delta’s new ultra low fare model keeps a family from sitting together because there’s no seat assignment. Just wait…we will see some angry letters because people just jumped at a price and didn’t read to see what is/what is not included.

      1. Don’t mess with me like that, Tony. They’re doing away with pre-boarding for the families (hurray). Nothing like getting on in boarding group 1 or 2 to find out there’s 25 diaper bags in the overheads.


        I got another MCO flight coming up. I think the airline should give all elite status pax free valium.

        1. LOL my ole mother in law from Arkansas got me hooked on pre-flight Valiums. I can vouch that they work and should really be given to everyone before they see the TSA lines and faint. My wife now demands I take one before a flight. Best medicine money can buy.

  3. “She booked her tickets on United Airlines through Priceline.”  Well there’s their first problem.  Their second is not looking at the confirmation after booking as they could have canceled the ticket without penalty within 24 hours.
    It is possible to change the name on a non-refundable ticket; they can cancel the ticket and then use the credit to purchase a new ticket for someone else for the fair difference plus the change fee.  I have done this many times on United no-less, I have no clue why they wasted the entire value of the first ticket.
    To me, this really comes down to the fact that they bought a non-refundable ticket.  This is a lot cheaper, but also comes with a change fee.  Changing the ticket is also much more difficult through a travel vending machine as you are now dealing with two pig-headed parties, Priceline and an airline.  The OP entered the wrong name, the OP didn’t look at the confirmation, now the OP calls them criminal for enforcing their contract?  If the OP bought a non-refundable sale item at a local store and realized later their bought the wrong item and the store wouldn’t accept a return, would the store be criminal too?
    An expensive lesson that simply reading the confirmation or double checking before buying would have avoided.

    1. IF they bought the ticket directly from United they would have had the 24 hour cancellation window.  Not so sure about the Priceline ticket.  Their website basically says anything you buy from them is not refundable, but might be changeable as far as travel dates.

      1. Interesting.  I read the Priceline terms and conditions and it states that any regular ticket purchase is subject to the rules change fees, etc. set forth by the carrier for the fair they purchase, plus an additional change fee on Priceline’s side.  However, if they use the “Name Your Own Price” option a ticket is non-refundable, non-cancellable, non-endorsable and non-changeable.  It also states that if canceled a credit cannot be used towards future purchases.  I am guessing the OP used the name your own price option.  Do you know Chris?
        I wonder how Priceline is able to skirt the law requiring all tickets be refundable for 24 hours?  But the way their “name your own price” system works, it makes since that you lose the credit if you don’t use it.  Just another on-line buyer-beware, or as I like to call it, the cheap comes out expensive.

        1. The 24 hour rule applies to published fares – the “name your own price” fares are technically bulk fares, so different set of rules.  But moot point, anyway – she said in the story she had “just” seen the mis-spelled name, which means she never bothered to check in the first place.  And that could be why this is the problem it is.

          1. That price point for SMF-PHL needs a 21 day advance purchase. So she needed a 24 day no-penalty rule; not a 24 hour one. 🙂

            If people know that a one-way Y class non-restrictive fare costs upwards of $1600, then they will understand why a $390 round-trip ticket has ALL THE RESTRICTIONS under the sun.

            Sometimes people forget what they are buying.

    2. “The OP entered the wrong name”

      That is an assumption being made on your part. The story does not say how it happened, simply that it did. Having never used Priceline, for all we know the mistake happened on Priceline’s end. Unlikely, sure, but things happen.

      More so, honest mistakes happen, and companies like Priceline and United have become so anal that it really has become criminal.

      1. I just did a mock booking on Priceline, and it makes me enter each name individual along with birthdate.  No last names are copied to other names.  They are all entered individually.  Then on the next page it re-displays all the names as a confirmation prior to entering any info.  While I don’t particularly care for Priceline, I find it hard to believe that Priceline went ahead and changed the last name after the person entered and confirmed the names.

        1. If you work with computer software long enough you eventually see all sorts of weird things happen.

          Computer code is by no means infallible. Like I said, it’s not likely, and the reservation should have been confirmed, but it’s not something I would assume could never happen, either.

          Regardless, this is just another example of how consumer-UNfriendly businesses have become in the chase for the almighty bottom line.

          You make a mistake, you will pay. They make a mistake, you will pay.

          1. If this was a glitch than I believe 100% that Priceline should eat the cost and re-issue the ticket.  I actually design customer facing systems and back end office systems, though not in the travel industry.  In my systems, we always put audits on these types of fields so we can go back and see if there was a mistake.  We also test thoroughly to make sure these problems don’t occur.  I would imagine if it was a glitch, it’s probably happening to a lot of people and would start making headlines.  I would hope Priceline would check to see what was entered v. what was passed to the ticket, etc. if a customer claimed they did not enter the wrong name, but I doubt they pay enough to hire people with analytical skills.   Based on the size of Priceline and their volume of business, I still believe their system would not make this sort of glitch, so while I don’t like them, I still believe with confidence that it was entered incorrectly by the user.  And as long as people demand discount tickets, they will come with these restrictions.  If they changed the name every time someone asked, we would quickly have a secondary market for discount airline tickets, and this would drive the base fair way up and open up the whole industry to fraud.  Imagine Elliot’s headlines then.  “Airline scalper sold me a ticket with no seat assignment, how do I get my money back?”

      2. But you have to actually input the names yourself – so yes, the OP made a mistake, and then didn’t check.  YIKES!

  4. I’m somewhat on the fence on this one. It’s been a while, but I gather the OP bought the tickets online at Priceline’s site.

    If the OP “inadvertently” selected the wrong last name for the friend, then neither Priceline nor the airlines are necessarily at fault here. Then again, let’s not get into that since that’s easy to do, yet can cause unnecessary aggravation for everyone concerned.

    Since it’s a UA-US Air mix, that complicates things even more. In my experience, name corrections (or worse essentially name changes like this one) are difficult to impossible to solve for tickets involving 2 airlines, mainly because of their respective policies on name issues.

    Another dilemma is nobody wants to make promises they can’t keep, such as if US or UA says it’s okay while someone at TSA says no, TSA and UA says it’s okay while US Air says no, etc. You know how things go on that one sometimes.

    I agree there ought to be a better way to verify a passenger’s identity if/when issues like this occur. Unless I’m mistaken, unfortunately the airlines are arguably at TSA’s mercy as well.

    As a few said, though, this is why it’s important to review carefully before and after finalizing the purchase, preferably within less than 24 hours after paying to allow time to “void” the ticket without any possible charges.


  5. Face it people none of this has the slightest relationship to security and everything to do with revenue. You the customer are a target and everyone is shooting at you and they would rather shoot you now and take the chance that there will be no consequences later. I am a big believer in letting the marketplace dictate what the providers provides but since we already have the TSA inextricably involved then I think some legislation may be necessary.
    Every airline has the right to set it’s own restrictions just like it has the right to set it’s price but it does not have the right to select it’s own facts. I actually admire these clowns at Spirit because they admit right up front that they are trying to screw you unlike the despicable pricelines, ua’s, delta,cheapoair, etc.

    1. Exactly! It’s bad enough that airlines charge $150 for the ten-dollar service of changing a name, but United seems to have denied this woman the chance to save her ticket by paying the change fee. This aspect is what makes their behavior here downright scammy.

      1. WHY???  SHE input the wrong name, then didn’t bother to check until too late.  The rules have been in place for YEARS, so she needed to either pay attention, or deal with the fact that she couldn’t originally be bothered.

  6. It sounds like both agencies took advantage of someone dumb enough to book a flight under a wrong name.  My view is is a little different.  She just had to pay the stupid tax.   Once in Europe we made a driving error and my other half groused about having to pay twice to get on the same road..after We made a mistake  My response is the same now as it was then:

    “We have to pay the stupid tax.”

    1. Yeah. I’m not sure why everyone is beating up on using Priceline. It’s a tool. Every tool comes with pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses. The OP obviously didn’t realize her mistake until much later than 24 hours, so it wouldn’t have mattered who she booked the ticket with. Strike 1, booking under the wrong name. Strike 2, not checking the confirmation. Anyone can make a mistake but when you’re too stupid to check the confirmation, then I really have no pity. Expensive lesson learned. I do like Emanon’s suggestion of canceling and using the credit (had that been an option). Or if she was more than 50% sure that could’ve used the original ticket with notation, she could’ve bought a fully refundable ticket as a backup. That’s probably what I would’ve done…

      1. “I do like Emanon’s suggestion of canceling and using the credit (had that been an option).”

        Not really feasible, given it was booked under the wrong name in the first place anyway. Not unless UA (who I assume is the so-called validating carrier in this ticket) is willing to have the ticket reissued with the correct or intended name.

        1. I’ve done that several times on UA.  Canceled a ticket, and then used the credit later for another person, different last name and everything.  Though as Lindabator pointed out and I found in the terms and conditions on Priceline, if they used the “Name your own price tool”, there is no future value for canceled or un-used tickets, and they are forbidden from being transferred or changed.  That is a Priceline rule, not necessarily an airline rule.

  7. Advocate for the customer ???

    Are you kidding? For 8 bucks or less (average OTA fee) ? Have we all gone insane?
    The ‘old’ agency model – where people count – is dying or almost gone.
    Now almost everything is only a transaction. Airlines don’t give a damn about their agents. They look at their agents as an additional distribution cost (just like they despise a GDS company). Airlines and passengers, too,  believe travel should be disinter-mediated to make its price as low as possible. You must be dreaming (or hallucinating) if you think your travel agent can still advocate for you with the airlines.

    An OTA is a vending machine. That’s why their service fees are low. They don’t have to pay Americans to do much of their work. If you need to talk to them, they will gladly answer your call (for a fee) overseas where labor is much cheaper. But even an OTA does not make a majority of their income on airline tickets. They make most of their money doing hotel aggregation.

    Your human travel agent can advise you, search for you, book and ticket you, and give you information. But if you want your travel agent to make any changes after the 24 hour grace period, then it will cost YOU and the travel agent money. If you want to know why service is disappearing, it is because the airline industry is REMOVING it. Either you are willing to pay for it or do not complain. So next time you think you are ENTITLED to service, think about WHO will provide it and HOW MUCH these people are getting paid to do it. Then ask yourself if you are willing to work under the same conditions. Have a nice day.

    1. Well, Priceline DID call United to see about bending the rules. (Presuming the PL agent knew the ticket was non-transferable)

      Just because they were not successful does not been they did not make an attempt to advocate.

      1. As I said in my post, DON’T BOTHER. Anyone who sells enough airline tickets and have tried the same thing (again and again) SHOULD KNOW THIS. I don’t consider TRYING, TO BEND THE RULES as advocating. Sounds like false hope to me. While it looks like good PR (if they really tried it), the net effect is the ticket needs to be reissued. I would not try to put a notation of the correct family name if is was not just a slight misspelling.  IMO, Priceline should stick by the airline rules and offer to reissue with a fee. Who made the mistake in the first place?

          1. You know, a foreign call center agent might actually request his/her supervisor to call their airline contact since these agents go by the book. Unfortunately, to no avail.

            I also noticed the article did not mention Jonathan’s real last name. It must very different than ‘Verdon’, so a simple notation would not work.

            I am sorry but Elliott is trying to morph a customer mistake to a lousy customer service issue. It’s a mistake, period. Priceline did not do anything wrong. And too bad the airline policies are horrendous. But that is not Priceline’s fault. The real issue is UNFRIENDLY airline policies. So let’s all try not to make a mistake or it will cost us.

          2. Can’t really help but agree with you here, Tony, after re-re-re-reading the whole thing and seeing how I missed a few things.

            OTOH, that’s why I said not to essentially play the blame game. Lots of that to go around, with little to nobody willing to admit or accept it.

        1. I’d say the client – she had to input each name, had the opportunity to double check before confirming purchase, and still had a chance when the email confimation was sent.  Expensive lesson! 

          1. I just don’t understand how she could have mistakenly entered the wrong last name for her friend.  Even though I’ve been with my boyfriend for many years, I can’t imagine any circumstances where I would accidentally enter his last name for mine or visa versa.  But I’m sure it can happen.  I saw in one of the comments that PL requires you to enter each person’s first and last names separately, so as unlikely as it seems, she had to have made the mistake.

          2. Some folks are easily distracted – but she had several opportunities to check BEFORE issuing the payment, and then AFTER the initial confirmation email.  Sad.

      2. True – they did do everything they could under the circumstances – that’s not to say they are always successful, unfortunately.  But the only one wrong here is the OP – booked it wrong, didn’t double check, didn’t reconfirm in 24 hours.  Then wants to break al the rules.

    1. I have gotten many good deals going through a travel agent, better than I could find myself online. I have NOT found better deals on the major OTA’s though. 

      If I were going from Dallas to Wichita, i would just book myself on Southwest. If I were going from El Paso to Asia…I’d be calling TonyA.

    2.  If they had booked directly with United, they probably would have had the same result, if they had made the same mistake, and waited that long to find and correct it.

      1. Agreed. The airline was where the buck stopped. Priceline actually made some effort to correct a mistake that was not their own, which I found somewhat refreshing. And the thanks they get is being blamed for it?

    3. I despise third party booking sites, but I don’t think that is the lesson here. I think the lesson here is to check the name on your itinerary the second it arrives in your inbox. Had they checked the names immediately this could have been resolved, Priceline or No Priceline this mistake could have happened on United’s website just as easily as on a consolidator’s website. 


  8. This whole thing with changing names and the airlines general refusal to do so for innocent mistakes is a complete screw job.

    1. Chris, can you explain a little bit more about this? I always assumed that it was to stop people from buying a ton of tickets during a sale and then reselling them at a later date. Does anyone know why the strict rules on changing names?

      1. I would like more info on this too.  Although I’ve always thought the same thing as Icarus.  Someone could just buy up a bunch of tickets far in advance when there are a lot of low cost tickets available, then re-sell them closer to the flight for less than the now much higher airline rate, but more than they originally bought them fore.  Just like people do with concert and sports tickets.  It would create a whole third party marked for airline tickets, but I think it would also hurt the airlines to the point they need to drastically raise prices across the board or put restrictions in place to prevent this.  That’s just my theory anyway.  I don’t buy the whole “TSA Requirement” thing.  Again, if people want to pay less, there is a cost to it in restrictions and inflexibility.

      2. Good luck finding a written policy.
        But generally speaking once tickets are issued, a TA cannot and should not change the name of the passenger.
        The usual procedure is to send the airline(s) an OSI message indicating the correct spelling of the name in the passport or ID that would be used to travel.
        Bear in mind that China Airlines, EVA and Emirates (I believe) cannot ticket names longer than 29 characters. (Note UA max length is 33 prior to merger).  So you cannot automatically just key in the complete passport names without counting how many letters they have.
        Since there really is a lack of a written policy for consumers to read, and nobody really understands all the issues, then they are left in the mercy of whoever will issue their boarding pass in the airport.
        IMO the DOT should make a clarification or ruling on this issue.

        1. Online shoppers need to read the rules.  Nonrefundable fares are usually nonchangeable and nontransferable.  If a purchaser doesn’t understand what this means, then call the carrier and ask.  The buyer has responsibility in knowing the rules and regulations of what they are purchasing before paying.

          1. Honestly, I have yet to come across a customer who really reads the rules. I end up having to read the rules for them and hope I guide them properly so they don’t hang me. The TA is always blamed for everything – the punching bag of the airline and the passenger. This can be a crazy job. And one way I have learned to cope with it, is to read Raven’s comments every morning and smile 🙂

        2. Tony,
          Didn’t people used to book tickets as “Passenger X” or something? I remember seeing a case here where a woman was using her TA to “hold” FC seats under bogus names and then releasing them at the last minute so she could score an upgrade.

          1. Yeah, I’m not advocating it, but I’m just remembering the case. It seemed like a total scam on the part of the TA and PAX.

          2. Didn’t people used to book tickets as “Passenger X” or something?

            True story: someone booked a plane ticket in our web site in that manner over two years ago, as in not knowing the exact name of his/her fellow passenger. Unfortunately s/he called in beyond the 24-hour window to “void” the ticket at no cost, so imagine the headache afterwards.


      3. Name change and other fees are a HUGE revenue source for airlines.  Granted the fee has some root in buying a ton of tickets, but airline revenue planning has a component that projects expected change fee income, etc.  The practice is not illegal, but it is larcenous. 

        Some say the airlines don’t listen to consumers and what they want.  Indeed, they listen well and heed what we have told them – we want CHEAP.  We will take CHEAP to save a ticketing fee for a live agent that either doesn’t let this silliness in the first place or is on the hook for the cost to make it right.

        ‘Be careful what you wish for because it might come true’Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_said_'Be_careful_what_you_wish_for_because_it_might_come_true'#ixzz1vcLmqBd3

  9. Most of the reported problems you have seem to deal with resale agencies such as priceline, etc.
    Are there any advantages at all to using them?

  10. Pretty much why I NEVER book third party any longer.

    But in the bigger picture, we get service like this because we (customers) have created a market were the #1, #2 and #3 factors that we look for are low price, low price and low price.

    Do you remember when gas stations cleaned your windshield?  Do you remember when clothing stores would alter your clothes for free?  Do you remember when doctors made house calls?

    Whenever an industry becomes intensely price-driven, the companies involved begin to focus only on how to squeeze every nickel possible from the sheep.  If Delta began talking about how they’d allow you to make changes in tickets for errors but you’d have to pay an additional $50 when you purchased them, how many of us would go along?

    If United started advertising that you’d get $100 if their planes were late, but you’d have to pay $100 extra for the ticket, would you pony up the price?

    If American offered extra maintenance checks, low-mileage engines and more thoroughly trained pilots — would you pay another $250 for that trip?

    Nah, I didn’t think so.  You’d go for the lowest price you could find.

    1. You’ve stopped going the third party route because you’re afraid of entering the wrong name on the tickets you’re buying?  Because that’s what the problem was here. It had nothing at all to do with Priceline. These people would have run into this exact same issue if they’d purchased directly from the airline. 

  11. If you are buying a ticket that is non-refundable, non-changeable etc., then obviously the purchaser should check and recheck all details prior to hitting that final button.     No criminal activity as far as I can see.

  12. Of course this stuff would be “criminal” if the criminal laws were equitably applied to all classes of persons. But we all know they are not. Airlines are in the one of favored classes. An American Airlines jet once arrived at JFK airport with 100 lbs. of cocaine hidden in the cockpit. Do you think American Airlines was held criminally responsible? A car arrives from Mexico with the same payload in a secret compartment. The driver, who plausibly claims she did not know, goes away for many years and is told: “You’re supposed to know what’s in your vehicle.” But not if your vehicle is a 737.

    1. There is a legal difference between a common carrier and a private vehicle.  If a person got into a licensed taxi with illegal drugs, the taxi got pulled over and the drugs were detected, the taxi driver would not be liable unless proven involved just as the airline pilot is not liable unless proven involved.  If someone has drugs in their private vehicle, they are personally liable as it is their private vehicle.

        1. So?  Multiple cleaning crews, maintenance crews, catering crews, flight attendants, and even other pilots all have access to the cockpit, and have been in it at multiple airports.  Again, it’s a common carrier, not the pilot’s private personal plane.  If it were a private personal plane, the story would be different.  Should a bus driver go to jail if someone brings drugs on the bus?
          By the way, the news stories all say that they found that the cocaine was placed there by a baggage handler who was caught and pled guilty.

          1. Well, my point is that the criminal laws don’t apply equally to all persons. You offer various unpersuasive reasons why they shouldn’t, but the fact remains that they don’t.
            When it comes to areas that are not open to the public (such as the cockpit), the fact of being a common carrier is irrelevant.

  13. Chris Elliott Story Reading Hint of the Day:

    When the headline has quotes around it, and includes a word with serious legal meaning, such as criminal, fraud, theft, etc., the actual story is not, in fact, a crime, fraud, theft, etc.  It usually ends up being the letter writer not paying attention to something important and getting upset at the travel service provider for the consequences.

    1. Now c’mon, @sirwired:disqus , Raven is the only one on here on whom the title “Doctor of Snarkology” has been conferred.

  14. Absolutely not!  in 2009, my brother-in-law did a OneWorld Alliance Round-the-World ticket issued by British Airways with a wrong name and a notation on the PNR and he could travel smoothly without any problem even with segments NRT-HNL-LAX-LAS-PHX-JFK and plenty TSA encounters without any problem.
    Why Joanne Verdon couldn’t?
    It’s an orchestrated scam with Priceline and United.
    Name errors are very frequents. Have you ever seen the name of the South-East Asian travellers (Thai, Laos and Cambodian, etc…)?
    Myself I couldn’t write it correctly the first time.

    1. Dang Ph

      Was your brother-in-law’s flight handled solely by BA, or was there another airline in the mix like this one? I’d honestly be shocked if it’s the latter yet both worked it out, although that’s obviously not a bad thing if ever.

      Whenever there are 2 completely different airlines in one ticket or itinerary, it makes things complex already. Add in the fact that it’s booked through yet another 3rd party like an OTA, and it makes things more complicated than people want it to be.

      1. Had to be more than one carrier as BA does not fly from NRT to LAX to LAS to PHX to JFK.  It runs into the US cabotage laws, which prohibit foreign flag carriers to transport passengers within the USA.

      2. It’s the BA agent error and they just put a notation in the PNR and assured them no problem, they said in case of problem they issued other ticket free of charges. They said  name error is frequent with Asian names and will not be an issue.
        Because they flew more than ONE airlines, that’s why they use the NOTATION. if only on BA, the just correct the name.
        The reservation was done on BA, so they deal only with BA.

          1. Security psycho is more an American/British (the last recent empires) issues but not really big issue in Canada, Europe or Asia. Lately, in Europe and Canada, I left bottles of water by inadvertence but they all went thru.

    2. LOL, many times I can’t even figure out which one is the first name or the last name. So I always request my Asian clients to either email me the names as they appear on the passport (and I copy and paste) -OR- I ask them to fax or scan and email me a copy of their passport(s). The latter is good since I can enter the full APIS info for them.

      I once had a case where a lady emailed us her name and we made a reservation. Then we got a frantic call (thank goodness before ticketing) that she gave us her maiden name and she can’t remember her married name. Me (with hands up in the air) requested that she just fax us her passport. Many airlines do not allow name changes even on (un-ticketed) reservations. So we have to create NEW reservations (at the current prices and seat availability). It is really a pain but those are the rules.

      As for the TSA, I have never had a customer complain they were blocked by the TSA because of name issues. I often try to control my laughter when I see a big Asian family hand their passports to a TSA agent. 🙂

      1. If you have Haitian customers, you will need to ask the same question because lot of Haitian citizens have French popular first-name as LAST/FAMILY Name.
        My sister and brother-in-law didn’t have any problem with TSA agent. As you speculate, may be they are afraid to be embarrassed to spent 5 minutes to try match the Asian names with a long queue waiting to pass.

        1. Last July I had a ‘lucky’ experience being on the same Cathay 777 full of (mainland) Chinese kids from HKG to JFK. They did not speak a word in English and had a (lost and found) tag hanging from their necks. They gave all their passports and US forms to their (what look to me) teenage guides. The passport stacks were so high that they kept falling everywhere. When we landed in JFK, no one was allowed to deplane until US Immigration and Customs could make it to the door of the airplane. Then they asked US citizens to get out first. I did. The first thought in my mind – walk fast and get out of there. I wonder how they sorted out who was who in that airplane.

      2. Can’t.

        And this person is competent to travel without a caregiver!?!?

        1. We do have a lot of old clients since we are very patient 🙂
          But this one really made me think twice whether I was still awake.

    3. But when the name is VERY different (completely different last name) and not just mving the order around, or small error, that’s when things go awry.  Quoc-Thai or Thai-Quoc they can understand.  Horowitz or Smith, not so much.

  15. We can put men (and women) on the moon, but changing the name on an airline ticket almost seems more difficult.

  16. Presumably the return segment from PHL was a UAL codeshare.

    If the notation was for the whole reservation, US Airways had to see it, no?

    If so, this is yet another example where airline choice may matter and where US Airways demonstrates that it prefers to stand apart from its peers (not in a good way).

    1. Yes, the tickets are ALL issued (validated) by one carrier.
      And the notation can be addressed to OSI YY meaning to ALL carriers in the PNR.
      But bear in mind, the OP is asking for a SURNAME change.
      This is almost impossible unless the guy married and changed his name 🙂

      1. I’m taking at face value (maybe I shouldn’t) the verbal assurances of the United agent and the TSA agent at SAC.

        If [I was in the OP’s shoes and] those agents allowed me to get their names, I would put some stock in it…

        1. From what I read the UA desk/gate agents in SMF would let him through, but the US agents in PHL won’t (on the way back). That verification was beyond just a simple notation.

          1. I read basically the same thing.  Sounded to me like the US Airways Manager was also in SMF (not sure if s/he contacted PHL personnel).

            Not sure what you mean by “That verification was beyond just a simple notation.”

            Looks to me like another example that fits the pattern of US Airways being more inflexible and difficult to deal with than its peers.

          2. I meant that if the desk/gate agent said they will board you then that is better than just a notation in a PNR (which they may not care to read).
            The airport agents hold the “key” to the plane. They will decide who will get in.

            I don’t know why USAir was playing hardball if UA was going to make a notation. For as long as USAir can lift the coupon and UA will pay them upon submission, then what’s the fuzz?

          3. what’s the fuzz

            Exactly.  I gather either the revenue from the new ticket or maybe just a company culture of inflexibility.

          4. Well that’s the difference between United and USAir. We lived in Sacramento about 20 year ago (2 of 3 sons born there). My wife has a big family there so we still visit. Her nephew is married to a UA FA who does Int’l routes from SFO. Before the LCCs flew there, United was our main choice. We and the rest of the family have never had problems with United. They are a good airline. [Cannot say what happened after the merger.]

            I avoid USAir for well known reasons. But I cannot blame a US Air employee (i.e. desk or gate agent) for telling the OP the truth that the guy will be denied boarding (for improper ID) since that is USAir’s policy. You cannot force an airline to be nice to you. All you can do is give your business to one that IS nice to you.

  17. I have flow twice with someone who did not have an ID. They just make you go through extra security. Just tell them you do not have an ID.

    1. Or they lie. I was in line behind a group of idiot college girls headed to spring break. One only had her fake ID which did not match her ticket. Her friend told her to tell the agent she was only 17.

      (This was prior to Secure Flight where you had to enter B-date)

      The girl went through security and boarded without incident. I had half a mind to say something, but, eh. I figured they’d lose what few brain cells they had left getting wasted.

  18. This is JUST A SCAM. I believe someone just came out with a book titled “SCAMMED” and this is egregious enough that it ought to be in there . . .  The fact that the “scammers” are big, well known names, makes it no less a scam, in fact they’re playing upon our trust of their good names to foist it upon us all.

    1. How is this a scam?  The OP put in the wrong name and there is a cost to get the ticket corrected.  They had 24 hours to do this from the time of purchase.  People who book online don’t understand how ticket prices are booked and also DON’T read the rules!

      1. $1147 is a reasonable cost to get the ticket corrected?

        Airlines sometimes make mistakes too (e.g. fat finger fares, phone agent errors) and we’ve seen that they won’t absorb the costs of their failures to proofread.

        1. When you change the outbound on a ticket, you start over and have to pay the current fare.  To get on the same flights and doing this close to travel, the price was mostly likely considerably higher.  Those low S, T, U, V, W fares are advance purchase fares and you move on up the fare ladder the closer to travel.  Expenisve lesson learned!

          1. I understand where those numbers come from.

            If the carriers were willing to eat the costs and chalk it up to an “expensive lesson learned” when one of their paid professionals commits a proof-reading error, then they might have slightly more standing to toe that line with their customers.

          2. Same idea, yes.  If they ding you for an honest mistake then (IMO) they ought to pay you when they mess up.

            Or they can recognize that we’re all human and follow the Golden Rule (which doesn’t necessarily mean fixing mistakes for free, just that mistakes are not a bonanza opportunity).

        2. No Michael, I don’t believe they got good advice.
          Note UA was willing to transport him from SMF-PHL.
          So his only problem was coming back home on the USAir flight (codeshared by UA).

          The proposed solution by Priceline was to BUY a  new ticket for $755. Now that is ridiculous IMO.
          What he should have done is buy a one-way ticket from PHL-SMF from USAir on the same flight but with a different (correct) name. Right now that can be as cheap as $225 plus tax.

          1. I was wondering about that too.  $755 sounded high but plausible to me for a one-way ticket at the last minute.  Or is it possible that a last minute round trip was about the same as or cheaper than a one way? (I’ve seen that occasionally).

            Anyway, my point was just that the price for “fixing” the mistake was a bit out of proportion with the mistake.  If that price was higher than necessary because of bad advice, then that just makes it even worse.

          2. I believe they sold him a new RT ticket. If I were him I do what I said above for $225 plus tax. Then I will check in at PHL as myself (correct name). Then I will also check in as my other self and get an empty seat beside me. That’s a lot cheaper than paying $150 + fare difference when you only have less than 10-7 days to go prior to Outbound departure. The Return is usually easier since that is farther away. So he had an easy problem with a wrong advice.

          3. Sure, *IF* the $225 fare was available for the flight in question.

            I do see your point that there’s a good chance they had 7+ or 10+ days until the return flight, in which case it seems improbable that the return flight alone would cost ~$755.

          4. SMF-PHL is one route that has a rate mismatch. Two one-way fares can be cheaper than a round-trip fare. So one would need to look closer at one-way fares.

    2. The OSI message has to be sent to both carriers and the airline agent has to scroll down and read it.  Many times, the latter is an issue!

  19. I’m not sure I understand the criticism of the TSA in this scenario other than continued TSA bashing.  The article states, ” 
    Their return flight was on US Airways, and a US Airways manager told them they’d be denied boarding.”  In my experience US Airways is happy to screw over a customer rather than escalate a situation to someone who could review and approve an exception to their official policy.  

    1. Lots of people skim these articles. They see names they don’t like and assume that must be where the problems came from.  Also note how many posts are preaching about the evils of third party travel sites even though Priceline did nothing wrong here.

  20. First and foremost, an agency can not do a name change or an outbound change without permission from the carrier.  When you change the outbound flight, the whole itinerary must be repriced and it is based on current availabliity and fares.  Currently, with all tickets, you have 24 hours to cancel, even with Priceline.  The OP didn’t catch the error until it was too late and learned an expensive lesson.

    I remember when airline’s didn’t charge fees, but I know why they started.  You have past, lying passengers to thank. 

  21. Had they not been trying to be cheap, they would have gone to an ASTA travel agency and bought their tickets for a small fee. Ours is $20-30.00. I would then be responsible financialy for their error, but if caught in the 1st 24 hours, I could have voided the ticket and re-written it at no cost to the passenger. On-line to my knowlege would just do what they do best; make excuses. Dumb move not to use a real live travel agent.

  22. It should have advocated for their customer, which after all, is what travel agents are supposed to do, right?

    Isn’t that precisely what PL did in this case? You yourself wrote:

    I called Priceline and was told United would have to authorize the name change, so I waited on hold with Priceline while they waited on hold with United.

    Finally, Priceline got back on the line with me and said United would not authorize the name change. Per Priceline, United said all they could do was to put a note on the reservation but that would not guarantee that our friend would be able to board.

    Priceline said our other option was to cancel the passenger’s first ticket and repurchase it. In this scenario, we would lose our payment for the first ticket and pay the current higher price for the new ticket and perhaps not have the same itinerary. 

    Chris, you of all people know how much and how far advocating can go. So if someone talks to somebody (like PL talking to UA, or you talking to a travel vendor) about a mutual customer’s issue but didn’t pan out, that’s not advocating?

    I’m rather disappointed with you on this one, Chris. Come on.

    1. What does the word advocating mean? Maybe agents need to genuflect in front of their clients and YES to all requests [for free of course].

      1. What does the word advocating mean?

        That’s a goooooooooooood question, probably depending on what context one wants to put it in.

  23. It doesn’t cost Priceline $375 to change a name in a reservation. 

    Their adhering to rules in spite of common sense is bad business. 

    There’s the old restaurant rule:  “The customer has to buy it.”

    and I for one just won’t.  Doing business with such businesses is like dealing with “Sneaky Pete’s” 

    What has happend more than once:  we look at the discount sites and see what airlines fly to where we’re going and what the price is.  Then we call the airline and often find the exact same price.

    1. Miami510, Priceline can’t change the ticket without the airline’s permission.  Plain and simple.  An agency doesn’t own the ticket to sell.

      1. I am surprised how many people think the agent is “pocketing” all or some of price difference to change a ticket. Unfortunately they have no clue how much work (and calling) goes into changing a ticket and agents don’t make anything unless they charge their own change fee ABOVE the and SEPARATE from the airline charges.

    2. Priceline cannot change a ticket without penalties if penalties apply.  IT DOES COST THEM.  The penalties and costs are set by the airlines, and Priceline cannot decide which rules it wants to follow and which rules it does not, or they not only pay a LOT more than the ticketing differnece, they can be blocked for booking that airline’s tickets ever again.

  24. This is not TSA it’s Priceline & the airlines trying to grab more profit!
    I repeat my mantra Chris, START A BOYCOTT. Start a 1 week boycott of 1 or 2 airlines, encourage people not to use them for 1 week as a form of protest. Then following week the same with another couple of airlines.
    They would soon get the message.
    After our last flight from Chicago Ohare to Vancouver, Canada I would definitly go along with it. TSA was no problem but United a VERY bad experience. The people behind the service? desk (what a misnomer), stupid, & uninformed beyond belief!

    1. Priceline is only the ticketing agent and can only do what the airline allows them to do.  People need to get a better understanding of how this works!!!!!

      1. Disqus generic email templateSo to all you Americans, sit & do nothing & watch it get worse. On this trip I flew 3 different airlines & the cheapest was the best service! Priceline as an agent should go to bat for their client period instead of mouthing airline policies! Rented from Alamo & got to save a bundle on a 1 day sale, so no real complaints re car etc., only the guy who saw me leave the car with my GPS in it & took it to his hut hoping, I think, I had forgotten it.

        1. This shows how little you know about airline tickets which is a problem due to the internet IMHO.  We don’t have airline Reps as we use to who would handle this for us.  We have to call, usually an agency desk with the carrier and it is their call, not ours.  If they won’t give us a waiver code we can’t do it or it we tried, we, not the passenger would get fined and it is taken out of our account that they have access to through ARC.  The fine can be anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars. 

          1. Disqus generic email templateNo matter to me! I try to go straight to the company rather than Priceline or other on line travel companies. I tried Priceline for car rental first then went direct. Got the best deal from Alamo & went with them. I guess my biggest problem is watching SERVICE go down the drain everywhere. In some 50 odd years of travel, service seems to have been lost to profit & the client is the big loser. Travel is not the only area as tradesmen in every area have forgotten about it as well.

          2. When customers are just numbers service isn’t priority and the airlines are not alone in this as stated.

          3. Often going directly to the company doesn’t give you the best deal. How do you know you got the best deal?  You don’t. 

          4. Let’s be honest – can even be thousands. Not to mention the airline can snag your plates and you are SOL – NO more ticketing allowed! 

        2. You just don’t get it.  Priceline does not OWN that ticket – it is OWNED by the airline.  They MUST, by Federal law, follow VERY STRINGENT ticketing/change methods, and if they deviate against the air carrier’s agreements, are in trouble for a LOT more money, and can have the ability to book with that airline stripped from them.  So they can’t just DECIDE to waive the airline’s rules for the client.

    2. If a year from now you want to fly from Chicago to Vancouver again, and United was $100 less than everyone else, would you buy it?  Or should I say, will you pay some else $100 more?  Or begrudgingly pay united again to save $100?  If not you, someone else sure would.  The majority of traveler’s go with the lowest price.
      The majority of airline revenue comes from business travelers who buy last minute expensive or full fare tickets for much higher prices and are still going to fly if Chris starts a boycott.  It’s these business travelers that keep most of the airlines afloat, and the deep-discount restricted tickets are there to fill the empty seats and bring in some extra money. So the majority of travelers are not producing the majority of revenue.
      I really don’t think your boycott will work; other people will simply buy the un-sold cheap tickets.  Maybe Chris could get everyone to boycott the airlines?  Two things would happen, they would either cut back on routes and frequency, or they would raise prices.  As long as people want the cheapest option, the same level of service cannot be expected.

    3. A one-week boycott of an airline when they knew that business would come back the next week once the boycott shifted to some other airline wouldn’t send any message whatsoever.  This is as useless as the age-old “Let’s boycott the gas stations for a week” idea. 

      1. Disqus generic email templateThen a far more lengthy boycott is needed. Else we keep getting “worked over”

    4. Priceline doesn’t make money on this – they still have to follow the airline’s ticketing rules.  And the client screwed the pooch by not putting in the correct name, not checking the names before confirming purchase, and not checking the email confirmation /changing the error in the 24 hour grace period.  NO one else to blame here.

      1. People outside of the industry, just don’t get it.  The internet has made fools out of reasonable people because since they can book online, they think they know how it all works.  Go read Charlie Leocha’s column today.  He writes false information, it gets published and then DIY’ers think what is written is correct.  Now he is on an advisory panel for the DOT.  Heaven help us in the industry!

  25. Wow, Priceline has quite the little money making venture going there, don’t they?

    Computers mess up all the time and creating a policy of forcing someone to forfeit the money paid already and having them buy an entirely new ticket?  A week in advance?

    1. Computers mess up all the time and creating a policy of forcing someone to forfeit the money paid already and having them buy an entirely new ticket?

      If their computers indeed messed up, however tempting that is to assume. Alas, we really have no way of knowing for sure, unless someone from PL speaks up.

    2. I don’t really think that’s the case here (look, a REAl TA defending Priceline – they’ll cancel my memberships for certain).  The client screwed up – she had 3 chances – input, before payment confirmation, and after email receipt – to clear this up in the 24 hours.  SHE DIDN’T.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients say, “well, I didn’t BOTHER to read whatthe agreement I just signed waiving travel insurance, notifying me of documentation, etc.  Sometimes, passengers have to start taking responsibility for the LACK of their actions as well.

  26. While I get wanting to save money on just about everything we buy, Chris’s web site has pretty much steered me away from the discount air sites.
    Unless a traveler is lucky, changes are huge emotional and financial messes.

  27. But when you use priceline and online travel agencies you don’t get an advocate for you – you get a volume seller.

  28. I just booked my flight reservations, before I could actually pay, they asked that I check to make sure all the information is correct, 3 TIMES!! AND it says the NAME HAS TO BE CORRECT. Geez please don’t sit the person next to me that can’t check a simple form to make sure they put their name in correctly. I am really tired of stupid people. Wah wah, I missed my cruise cuz blah blah blah….oops I put the WRONG LAST NAME on my flight reservation and now I need the airline to forgive me…uh no, 

    1. My wife once booked a ticket and forgot to use her middle initial on the reservation. Luckily the mistake was discovered shortly after the reservation was made and Southwest Airlines quickly made the change for her with no fee charged. It’s a mistake that almost any one can make and people should not have to pay hundereds of dollars to get it fixed.

  29. “US Airways and United weren’t protecting their revenues by denying this passenger a name change or preventing him from boarding. They were just being pigheaded.”  

    PIGHEADED is absolutely the correct term.  Easy to just reissue the ticket with the correct name. 

    Things are getting completely out of control.  Airlines are treating their customers like criminals.   I still think we should organize a “non-fly” week for every single person in the United States to force the airlines to start giving us some service for our dollars.

    1. The OP made a mistake and could have had this corrected within 24 hours of purchase.  What don’t you understand about a restrictive ticket purchase?  There IS a reason why the carriers went to restrictive tickets and as I mentioned in a previous post, you have past ticket purchasers to thank for getting these strict rules put in place.  I own a business, do you?  We have gone to fees because everyone thinks their time and money is worth more than ours and want things done for free.

      1. The reason that the carriers went to restricted fares was that they would better be able to plan their load factors and revenue streams well in advance. A name change does not affect the number of people on a plane. As long as it appears that an honest mistake was made, the airlines should correct these mistakes for a reasonable processing fee.

  30. If TSA did not have a problem with boarding with a wrong name as long as notation was made it shouldn’t been a problem since airlines are don’t check ID at the boarding gate. They should not even be telling US Air about the name discrepancy. Just print the boarding pass at home or at the kiosk and don’t check bags.

  31. I just recently did something similar this past April. Of course, since in my mind I’m a regular, seasoned, frequent flying, know it all passenger, I couldn’t believe it when I booked my mom’s ticket to visit me in Seattle that I had used my last name and her first name on the ticket.  I didn’t notice it on the confirmation.  I found out when my mother arrived in Seattle and she proceeded to tell me what I had done.  The counter agent was told her we typically charge $100 to do a name change, but we’ll do it for you, just this once.  And, it was done.  This was Alaska Airlines.  

  32. Is this woman a moron ?

    Hey I booked a ticket on a US airline. My name is Osama Bin Laden, but my real name is Obama Hussein (Bin laden) & am a close relative of the US president. Shouldn’t I get FREE travel on Air Force 1 (or 2 I don’t care)

    Why didn’t priceline & United just say to her, you have to buy a new ticket (you idiot) & next time learn to type before making a booking online !!!

    Another scenario …

    I booked a ticket, on XYZ air & my name is John SMith, but then I decided I didn’t want to go.

    So I made up this totally bogus story of how I typed my name wrong when I made the booking & it’s really Shirley Temple (I’m a cross dresser).

    But the airline wouldn’t go for it.

    Help me get my money back, because I deserve it, because I’m an idiot & also cross dressers should get special privileges that normal people don’t. It must be a really slow news day, if you’re even bother to write about how stupid people are & worse, they even admit to it.

    Maybe, this woman shouldn’t be allowed near a computer before she passes a basic IQ test.

    1. She made a simple mistake and got shocked about how much it would cost to fix it. She’s human. Actually there were doing good in fixing it when they went to the airport and got UA to notate and agree (in advance) to allow Jonathan to use his ticket. Their only problem was the USAir return flight. That’s where, I believe, they did not get a lot of good options. I’ve lived in both Sacramento and Philadelphia. I would not pay $750 to fly between those cities. I’ll figure out a way to pay less.

  33. Many airlines now offer name changes on tickets for a fee, sometimes substantial.

    Easy work for airlines (a lot more profitable than running an airline)

    If it’s too minimal a fee people wouldn’t take any care entering their name.

    Travel agent I dealt with last for ticket to USA, insisted that we email our names as per passport.

    Apparently, many people can’t even spell their names over the phone.

    It seems some Australians are as dumb as some Americans.

    1. A lot people don’t know their own name as it appears on their passport or DL and forget about the spouse calling to make their partner’s reservation.  Oh lordy, it does get interesting!

      1. Since mobile texting or instant messaging became popular, people can longer spell correctly – not even their names 🙂

        Most emails we get for booking or fare requests are now one liners.

  34. This is why I deal directly with the airline and not through a thrid party booking. Errors are easier to correct.  Bad enought the airline always changes the schedule without notifying me. I just keep checking the booking online to pick up changes.

  35. OK, so the lesson I’m getting out of this one is that if I make the mistake in spelling my own name on my airline ticket, I have to pay for it to be corrected.  If an agent makes the mistake (agent in this case meaning Priceline, etc), I have to pay for it to be corrected.  If I call for a reservation on the phone and the operator I’m talking to makes the mistake, I still have to pay for it to be corrected.

    Either way one reads it, it still makes me nervous.  I have a rather complicated first name and it is routinely misspelled by others, even after being corrected over and over again.  And I’m prone to typos, although it appears that the airlines or the TSA doesn’t exactly speak typonese.

    *wonders how to make sure my ATL-HON-PPG flight is going to be glitch-free*… should I type slow and make sure that the site doesn’t decide to refresh itself?  lol

    (Sorry, rhetorical thinking.  This fee-for-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink thing is for the birds.)

  36. Very sad story, Priceline should have taken care of this. But OP should have scrutinized the tix in the first place, of course. Getting caught amongst 3 entities is almost a guarantee of disaster. Pigheaded is the operative word here for both airlines; vendors need to get with it and start protecting their customers occasionally. By all means penalize us for errors, but don’t go hog-wild trying to extract the maximum amount of money from someone in a weak position – a traveller trying to correct something at the last minute is practically helpless.

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