I had to change my son’s name, but the airline won’t help me


Lisa Coris changes the name on her son’s passport, but now Ethiopian Airlines wants to charge her $300. Is that too much?

Question: I’m a single mom, and I have an adopted child from Ethiopia who is almost 10 years old. When we left Ethiopia, I had to change his name so that my name was his middle name, in accordance with Ethiopian law.

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I just renewed his passport and changed his name so that my name was no longer on it. But we are flying to Entebbe, Uganda, in December on Ethiopian Airlines, and his tickets still have my name as his middle name.

So now I have roundtrip tickets from San Francisco to Entebbe, but my son’s ticket still says “Lisa” while his passport doesn’t. I’ve asked Ethiopian Airlines to change the tickets, but it wants $300. Can you help me? — Lisa Coris, San Francisco, Calif.

Answer: Lisa, you’re a hero for adopting an Ethiopian orphan — and as a single mom, no less. I can understand why you would want to change your son’s name. Our customs and laws are different, and when you showed me all the paperwork, I noticed that he actually had two middle names, which was a little awkward.

By now, you probably know that the time to change your name is before you buy your tickets. Brides- and grooms-to-be, take note: Airlines love to collect a name-change fee or charge you for a brand-new ticket when you need to fix a ticket like this. The actual name change doesn’t cost your airline $300 in labor, but in the airline world, there’s so little that makes sense anymore.

Still, your circumstances were special. You were just trying to fix something that Ethiopian law had forced you to do, but that didn’t really resonate with your American value system. Adopting a child is also a noble thing, and it felt a little bit like you were being punished for simply trying to make the world a better place.

Ethiopian Airlines is not difficult to reach. It lists its contacts by department on its own website. You also can find a full list of its executives on its site.

I think a brief, polite appeal to the airline would have yielded a desired result. So why didn’t it? Based on what I see, you probably were a little too brief in your explanation of what went wrong. Most travelers offer too much detail, but in your case, you could have written a more thorough explanation of what you needed.

In the end, I think the airline probably would have let your son on the plane with his new passport. While some airlines pay close attention to the full name, the reservations systems can’t always fit the entire, full name on the ticket, so they may be abbreviated or overlooked entirely. I think you were correct to make sure the names matched, though. You don’t want to be left with a worthless ticket.

I contacted Ethiopian Airlines on your behalf. It waived your $300 change fee.

9 thoughts on “I had to change my son’s name, but the airline won’t help me

  1. I agree that for an obvious mistake, there should only be a nominal name-change fee, if any. It’s not an especially common situation, so I don’t see how such a high fee is worth how angry it makes the people asked to pay it.

    1. you would be surprised – AND it was begun to avoid fraud, and to avoid the work that goes along behind the scenes with those constant changes – falls under the problem with churning reservations, which is also frowned on by FAA

  2. At least the airline is willing to change the name. This is something most airlines will simply tell you to buy a new ticket for.

    The amount of the fee is irrelevant. It is what the airline says it is. It is not supposed to only cover the actual cost of the task. It is a fee, like most other fees in this range, that was designed to reduce the number of these type of changes requested.

    1. I agree…the fee is not to cover the actual cost of the task but to reduce the ‘behavior’. If there are no fees to make the changes then people will be making changes all of the time.

      1. Why certainly! If the name change fee were to be set to the $25 or so it really costs to change one field in a PNR, everybody will be adopting Ethiopian orphans week after week just so they could enjoy changing their names on airline reservations.

  3. I’m really glad this worked out for her. Definitely an unusual situation; however, if she knew she was going to do this when she renewed the passport, she should’ve either purchased the tickets in the name she intended to use for the child or just waited till she had passport in hand to purchase the tickets-she caused herself an unnecessary amount of heartburn for this.

  4. Good for you helping her. This is not a normal case and I was also happy to see that the airline did what other do not- they were willing to fix the name without requiring her to buy a whole new ticket at current prices.

    Glad the fee was waived for this special circumstance but you should also give a high give to the airline for fair business practices too.

  5. This seems like a problem of OP’s creation. You have a passport with A B C name….you book a ticket with A B C name then before the flight you change the passport? Couldn’t this have been prevented by waiting to change the passport until after you travel? It’s nice they waived the fee but this is a problem of OP’s creation.

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