My $800 mistake

jalIn just a few days, the next phase of TSA’s Secure Flight initiative goes into effect, which streamlines the watchlist matching process and requires air travelers to give the government more information about themselves.

Travel experts have already begun warning their clients about the repercussions. But Heather Lorusso didn’t have to wait for a Secure Flight problem when she booked a flight on JAL through Expedia.

When booking a trip from Tokyo to Beijing, I made the mistake of entering my companion’s name as “Chris” instead of “Christopher.”

Understanding that it was I who made the mistake, I was willing pay extra in administration costs to get those six extra letters added to his name. Unfortunately, with cancellation fees and having to buy a whole new set of airplane tickets through a different company I’ve ended up losing more than $800.

Whoa. Eight hundred bucks?

When I realized we might have some trouble at customs in Beijing, I called to get the matter sorted out. What I didn’t realize was that I was in for hours of being sent back and forth between Japan Airlines and Expedia.

One company would tell me they had no power to change the ticket and that I should call the other one back. This happened about six times, culminating in rude and belligerent treatment by a supervisor at Japan Airlines’ US office. After I was refused an explanation on why they were unable to change the name, and rudely denied access to speak with another representative, I had had enough and let Christopher sort the rest out.

Again, he called both JAL and Expedia – again to no avail. Finally we canceled our Expedia tickets, with a penalty of $250 per ticket and bought new tickets through Travelocity which were a few hundred dollars more than our original ones.

I’m really at a loss of what to do. Apparently, this problem is quite common and people have been able to get their money back, but I’ve run into a brick wall. I understand that the initial fault is mine, but I don’t think it is a mistake worth $800 and being treated very poorly by Japan Airlines for.

Is there anything you can do?

This is ridiculous.

Chris is a common shortening of the name Christopher. (I ought to know.)

I’ve had the name “Chris” on an airline ticket many, many times, with no problem. Expedia and JAL should have known that this was the same person and fixed it, rather than forcing him to buy a brand-new ticket.

Airlines insist they can’t change the name on a ticket for “security” reasons. But maybe some of the airline apologists who read this blog can explain how adding the words “topher” to a ticket threatens to send a plane into the South China Sea?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

What we have here is a massive breakdown in communication, stupid rules and an apparently avaricious airline, conspiring to turn a passenger’s innocent mistake into a federal case. No wonder people don’t like flying anymore. They don’t even have to darken the cabin door to be mistreated.

I asked Expedia about Lorusso’s case. Yesterday, I heard back from her.

I woke up this morning to $150 in coupons in my Expedia account. There was no explanation so it must be because of you. I don’t think I’ll get the chance to use them as the rules and deadlines are pretty strict, but I’m just grateful that you tried to help. Thanks again!

I think these name-change shenanigans need to stop — now.

Considering how strict TSA and other government officials are about to get on exact name matches, this is hardly the right time to be throwing the book in passengers’ faces.

(Photo: Hyougushi/Flickr Creative Commons)

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