Does Secure Flight program mean more money for the airlines?

Jesse Demastrie and his wife flew from Washington to Las Vegas without incident the day after Christmas. TSA agents waved them through the screening area, and United Airlines allowed the couple to board the aircraft.

But Demastrie had been worried that they might be turned away from their flight. When his father booked their tickets through Travelocity as a gift, he typed his daughter-in-law’s name as Dianne Elizabeth Demastrie instead of her legal name, Dianne Tharp Demastrie.

“I called both Travelocity and United to see if we could get the ticket changed,” said Demastrie, a media buyer from Washington. “But the best they said they could do was to make a note on the account of the name change.”

Small discrepancies between the name on a ticket and a passenger’s driver’s license or passport used to be shrugged off by airlines and airport screeners. But under the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program, the name on a ticket and on an ID must match exactly. If they don’t, you could be delayed or prevented from flying.
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Can this trip be saved? Wrong middle name on my airline ticket

Having the wrong name on your airline ticket is no longer a minor inconvenience, now that the TSA has begun enforcing its name-matching requirements for airline tickets. And that could be a show-stopper for Jesse Demastrie and his wife, who are scheduled to fly from Washington to Las Vegas for the holidays.

The problem? Demastrie’s father, who booked the flights through Travelocity, got his wife’s name wrong.

“He inadvertently used my wife’s old middle name,” he says. “She actually dropped her middle name and now uses her maiden name as her middle name. So the ticket she was issued has her correct first and last name but her old middle name.”

Passengers must now provide their full names as they appear on a government-issued ID, their date of birth and their gender when they book a flight.

Demastrie is concerned his wife won’t be allowed on the plane.
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If it’s called Secure Flight, why do I feel so insecure?

Thanks for the birthday card, Southwest Airlines.

The computer-generated missive, complete with signatures of the airline’s executives, landed in my mailbox just before the big day. At first I was flattered by the thoughtful gesture. But then I was troubled.

How did they know my birthday?

And then it occurred to me: Airlines are now requiring passengers to provide their full name as it appears on a government-issued I.D., their date of birth and their gender as part of the Transportation Security Administration’s new Secure Flight initiative.

You probably know Secure Flight as the pesky requirement that the name on your passport or driver’s license be an exact match with the name on your airline ticket. But the program is much more than that. With the extra passenger data, the agency promises to improve the travel experience for all airline passengers, particularly those who have been misidentified as terrorists in the past.
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With air security, travelers are flying blind

IMG_9923The Transportation Security Administration likes to keep terrorists guessing. Apparently, it likes to keep travelers guessing, too.

And we do. Shoes on — or off? Laptop computer in the bag — or on the conveyor belt? And tickets: middle name, middle initial or just first and last? Oh, and are they going to pull you over at the gate for additional screening?

“We don’t want to be consistent,” TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches told me. “We want to be flexible. We don’t want a checklist mentality. If we are predictable, it could become easier for someone who wants to do us harm to figure out the system.”
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Is the TSA “trying to scare me into providing personal information”?

Secure Flight. Just the mention of those two words is enough to confuse, frustrate or frighten the average air traveler. As in, “The Transportation Security Administration’s new Secure Flight program will require you to … (insert name of ridiculous new policy here).”

The question now isn’t what is Secure Flight. It’s, “what isn’t it?

Frank Perch got the following email from AirTran the other day, for example.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration announced changes to their watch list matching process called Secure Flight. The mission of Secure Flight is to enhance the security of domestic and international air travel through the use of improved watch list matching. Another benefit will be greatly reduced incidents of passengers being misidentified with names on the TSA’s watch lists.

What does this mean for me?
Starting today, when purchasing a ticket you will be required to provide your full first, middle and last name, exactly matching the valid government-issued ID you will present at the airport (e.g. driver’s license, passport, etc.).

Beginning August 15, 2009, you will also be required to provide your gender and date of birth when booking flights.

How will I benefit?
You will benefit from the Secure Flight program through improved security on all flights and reduced rates in misidentification of passengers who have similar names on the TSA watch list.

He thought it was a scam.

The email does not exactly say, but strongly implies, that if I goof up — if my name on the reservation does not exactly match the format on my ID — that my ticket will not be valid.

My first reaction to this email was actually that it must be a phishing email of some kind. Some crook is trying to scare me into providing personal information. Yet the email seemed to pass many of the usual phishing tests. I couldn’t find any spoofed hyperlinks for instance.

I was still suspicious though because none of the other airlines I deal with was contacting me about this alleged requirement, which the email says is effective TODAY, and also usually when there is something important like that one would expect a bit of advance notice.

As it turns out, the email is legit, and so is the requirement. But Perch’s note underscores the fact that there’s so much misinformation about the new TSA policy, it’s amazing that air travel hasn’t ground to a halt.

Among the misconceptions:

Secure flight went into effect June 1. Actually, it was effective May 15. The government’s new passport requirements, not to be confused with Secure Flight, went into effect yesterday. If you’re interested, my colleague Edward Hasbrouck has a disturbing take on that new rule.

It will require you to use your full, legal name immediately. In fact, TSA officials promise to gradually phase in Secure Flight. “Passengers shouldn’t be concerned if particular airlines don’t ask them to provide the additional information right away; it should not impact their travel,” the department says.

If your name doesn’t match, you’re grounded. Over the coming months, when booking airline travel, you may be asked to provide your name as it appears on your government ID that you plan to use when traveling, according to the TSA. But it’s also clear in reading the department’s documentation that you won’t be denied boarding if your name isn’t a precise match. (You’ll probably get an extra screening by a TSA officer.) So you can keep using your old name, but you might want to book under your legal name to avoid delays.

A word of advice for those of you who want to bring your airline tickets into compliance with Secure Flight: don’t bother. It’s your airline or online agency’s responsibility to collect Secure Flight-compliant names and, eventually, genders and birthdates (coming in August). So don’t try to change the name on your ticket, because your airline could charge a change fee and a fare differential (which they gladly will) and that will do you absolutely no good.

Let me quote from the TSA FAQ section:

Q: What if my name and I.D. do not exactly match when I arrive at security? Will I be turned away and unable to fly?

A: No. Secure Flight will not impact the process at the security checkpoint in any way.

So let’s all take a deep breath. No one is out to steal your identity. Your airline tickets are fine.

At least for now.