Help! Alitalia misspelled my name and won’t change it back

When an Alitalia representative misspells Barbara Stuckey’s name, she’s sent on a wild goose chase to get it fixed. Does she have to buy a new ticket?

Question: I’m hoping you can help me. My husband booked a trip over the phone with an Alitalia agent whose first language obviously was not English. Though my husband spelled my name more than once, he assumed that when the agent read it back correctly, it was typed in correctly.

Bad assumption. We didn’t realize until after the 24-hour cancellation window that the agent was speaking it correctly but spelling it wrong.

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We have called Alitalia four times from the U.S. and once from Italy trying to get this issue resolved, with no luck. Not once has the airline given us an answer; it’s always just: “We’ll get back to you when we hear.”

The only suggestion we’ve been given is to buy a new ticket. This is not acceptable to us, since the error was made by the Alitalia agent and all we want to do is have two letters changed on the reservation. The correct spelling of my name is Barbara Ellen Stuckey. Alitalia spelled it Barbara Ellen Stuckui.

Alitalia representatives keep telling us they are waiting for an answer from their European “main office” to be able to correct this. A month has passed, and the travel date is now six weeks away. By the time they get back to us with an answer, if it’s not the one we want, we will be forced to buy a new ticket at a higher price. Can you help? — Barbara Stuckey, San Francisco

Answer: Maybe. The Alitalia agent your husband spoke with should have spelled your last name correctly, but it’s also important to double-check your reservation after you receive it. And not just the names, but also the dates and flights. Under the Department of Transportation’s 24-hour rule, you have a full day after you’ve booked your ticket, unless your flight is imminent, to fix the error. After that, you’re stuck.

Airlines are extra strict about changing ticket names, even minor ones. There’s only one reason they do it — to make more money. When they sell you another ticket, they get to pocket your first fare.

It’s easy money. It’s also money to which I believe the airline isn’t entitled (after all, no one is going to use that typo-riddled ticket). These common-sense name changes should be allowed without a special dispensation from the main office in Rome. Some airlines will make these fixes at the ticket counter on your day of departure, but there’s no guarantee they will.
I’m not sure if a direct appeal to the powers that be would have helped, but I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer-service execs on my website (http://elliott.org/company-contacts/alitalia).

I asked Alitalia to review your case. A representative took a look at your reservation and said it showed that the agent “spelled the name numerous times.” The Alitalia rep added: “It is possible that it was Mr. Stuckey who didn’t understand the agent.”

Hmm, a passenger who doesn’t know how to spell his own last name? That would be a first.
That didn’t sound promising, so your husband contacted a friend, who had some Alitalia connections. I’m glad he did. I can always use a little help.

A few weeks later, Alitalia sent me a final verdict: “Our office reissued a new ticket and refunded the erroneous one.”

Have a great trip!

This story originally appeared on May 13, 2015.

17 thoughts on “Help! Alitalia misspelled my name and won’t change it back

  1. When I traveled with my son and he purchased my ticket he spelled my first name Melisaa instead of Melissa. Nothing happened. I doubt anything would have happened here, either, but I’m glad that it got taken care of and the OP got some peace of mind.

    1. On domestic US flights they are very flexible at least going through security. As long as your boarding pass scans through the TSA reader device, they seem to be OK with it.

      International is a different thing. And I would believe anyone booking a flight on Alitalia from the US is probably an international traveler. The name not matching exactly would probably prevent this passenger from flying.

    2. it’s tricky. The policies are pretty firm. TSA (in the US) is supposed to reject any name variance from ticket to ID as that name is run through the watchlist database. But certainly there are agents who are lenient. Some airline ticket agents will fix obvious mistakes for no charge, but others can be sticklers about rules, and given time and line length fluctuations, it is better to try and fix errors ASAP then go and hope. I suppose it depends on the variance as well.

      As always, travellers should double check everything as they receive it (for 24 hour refunds and quick fixes) and at least once 24 hours prior to start trip.

  2. Perhaps the relevant identifying detail should be the passport number for international travel and ID number for domestic passengers. At the very least, it could function ans backup verification. That way, you can call yourself Snuffles the Iridescent Kangaroo if you want, and no one cares. Do your ID numbers (which are much easier to correctly communicate over the phone) match? Great!

  3. Sure enough – the ticket that is not in your name is not your responsibility – so money back is a non-issue. But I understand that the deal was good and to buy new ticket now does not get you the same low price.
    Either way – it is the airline that is the looser. Go to the airport and the irport agents will make proper changes – unless your name is Black and it was misspelled into Smith.

      1. APIS information (visa / passport) might be different from Secure Flight information (name, DOB for watchlist check) but I wouldn’t advocate for making them different and hoping a ticket agent wants to fix it. Secure flight should have a perfect name match for lookup, APIS should have a perfect document number match for lookup. So I think you are confusing the two separate processes and what is (theoretically) allowed or not allowed

  4. Avoid booking any travel by phone, which travel companies are discouraging now anyway. If you are not booking through a travel agent, use the online site. This will assure you of seeing a printable confirmation at the start of the 24-hour change window, rather a week later when the misspelled reservation moseys its way to you through the mail.

  5. No company should employ customer service people whose first language is not English if they will be speaking with English speaking customers. Good bye Indian call centers.

    1. Wow, so an Italian company should only hire people whose FIRST language is English? Seems a bit extreme.

      As it happens, my last name is also Stuckey. I cannot explain why, but I almost always expect my name to be misspelled. It seems rather straight forward, but it happens ALL THE TIME. I can guarantee this is not the first time her last name had been misspelled. She really should have checked it immediately. I do.

      1. Yes, she should have checked it. I am tired of calling customer assistance for American companies and end up talking to India. These call centers should be in America and staffed by Americans.

    2. So, does this mean American, Delta and United should all employ people whose FIRST language is that of whoever calls in to their reservation centers here in the United States, as well? There are lots of customers from all over the world that work, live or visit our country and have to use these airlines’ call centers. Think the airlines will reservations agents whose first language is German, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Russian, etc.? I won’t hold my breath.

  6. Why do these PAX have to beg to get airlines to do the right thing? There was doubt that the pax would get their money back, why is this in any way acceptable? Oh yeah, the laws in this country that turn citizens into ‘cows with ear tags’. We’re merely a resource to be harvested by business, and this is in any way acceptable? Why is it that we get the 24 hour rule, when airlines can cancel a flight months later??? Answer: maybe we are acting like cows, not citizens with the vote???

  7. There is a difference between a “name change” (e.g., someone who goes through the legal process of changing their name), a “change of person” (e.g., transferring a ticket from one individual to another), and a “name correction” (no change in the person using the ticket or the person’s name, but instead correction of a typographical error). I think the intent of these types of rules is for the carriers to profit from a “change of person” (although I do not like restraints on alienation as a matter of public policy),and there is no substantial justification to impose a charge for a “name change” (should newly-married women be charged extra for assuming their husband’s name?) or a “name correction” (should consumers be charged extra for the negligence of a carrier’s employees?). Until there is greater understanding and precision in the use of these similarly-sounding terms, these ambiguities will continue.

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