Help, the names on my kids’ airline tickets are wrong — what should I do?

arrowHeather Matinde’s problem is fairly common, but when it happens to you, it can sure seem like the end of the world. She’d just paid a small fortune for airline tickets from Los Angeles to Brussels on Expedia, only to discover a serious problem with her sons’ reservation.

Each boy had each others’ middle names on their tickets, and the airline was balking at making a correction. Unfortunately, Matinde didn’t reach out to Expedia and the airline, Jet Airways, within 24 hours and — you guessed it — the airline was refusing to fix the names.

But Matinde wasn’t freaking out about it. Instead, she’d stumbled across my site, and appropriately enough, my error page in which I quoted the great surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, who said, “Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them.”

I love that quote, because halfway through my career as a consumer advocate, I feel as if I’ve made almost every mistake in the book. And as Salvador suggests, I have learned to embrace them.

“It puts a positive spin on the situation,” said Matinde.

I like that outlook.

I decided to contact Expedia to see if 1) she really needed to get this fixed; and 2) If it could help.

Before I get to Expedia’s answer, let me make one more point. Some of you will probably be saying to yourself, “She should have used a real travel agent.” I understand. But a lot of “real” agents don’t do these simple point-to-point airline tickets — there’s just no money in them. Most people turn to an online travel agency or book directly, and that’s where problems like this happen.

Turns out this is a borderline case. The TSA would have probably let her sons through, dismissing this as a small difference. Also, the airline should have fixed the names on the tickets at the airports without charging anything extra; most airlines do.

Expedia takes it from here:

Thank you for contacting Expedia on behalf of Ms. Matinde. Expedia’s records found that the customer booked a flight reservation validated by Jet Airways for four travelers online for roundtrip travel beginning September 3, 2013 from Los Angeles, California to Brussels, Belgium. There was also a connecting flight in Newark, New Jersey.

Expedia’s records show that the customer misspelled the names of children, age 13 and 6, as Cody Joseph Matinde and Ian Ochieng Matinde. The names should have read as Cody Odhiambo Matinde and Ian Okinyi Ishmael Matinde.

Expedia advocated on the customers behalf and was told by Jet Airways that without exception, tickets are non-transferable and the names cannot be changed. The Expedia representative was also informed that although middle names are not required, to avoid problems they suggest splitting the incorrect names from the ticket and exchanging them for a fee of $100 per person for a total of $200, as long as the same flights in the same class of service are available. This change would cover all airlines associated with the ticket, preventing additional name correction fees.

It’s an offer Matinde gratefully accepted.

There are at least two really important lessons to be learned. First, and most obviously, always double-check the names on your tickets before you click the “buy” button. Remember the DOT 24-hour rule, which allows you to fix the mistake, with certain limitations.

But second, I think these name changes are too often used to generate more money for the airline. Look at these reservation change fees for 2012: $2.5 billion, according to the U.S. government.

Does anyone really think another passenger named Cody Joseph Matinde would steal Cody Odhiambo Matinde’s ticket and use it for nefarious purposes on a flight to Belgium?

Yeah, neither do I.

I’m happy Expedia helped resolve this DIY error, but I think I’m leaning towards Dalí’s interpretation of this case. Why correct it?

Note (June 13, 2013): Some of the comments on this post went a little sideways yesterday, veering into territory this site tries to avoid. After a slew of flaggings by readers, our moderator team consulted late today and early yesterday and deleted some of the threads that violated our comments policy. We didn’t take this action lightly. We favor an open debate, but we also want the comments to be reasonable — and readable. Thank you for your understanding.

Did Jet Airways do enough for Heather Matinde?

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