Boarding Pass. Phto: Flyer Talk

Making headlines recently, an Australian newly-wed couple faced the challenge of having to change their flight reservations from the wife’s maiden surname to her now married surname.

Upon requesting what they thought would be a simple process and only a name change penalty, they were faced with the reality that it will be no simple or even “cheap” process. The couple were told that they would have to cancel their existing booking (made in the previous year), face cancellation penalties, rebook at the current available fare charges and possibly face flight availability difficulties.

So, what is in a name? The short answer is that airlines are bound by international law. When your air ticket is non-refundable and non-transferrable, it means just that. Expect the airline to apply all penalties, fees and increased fares.

Typically, your ticket will have to be cancelled, you will have to apply for a refund if one is due, and an entirely new air ticket will need to be purchased.

You might wonder why airlines are not entirely flexible when it comes to name changes.

The truth is, airlines have two very good reasons why they don’t want you to change your name on the ticket:

  1. Revenue Protection

Airlines want to ensure that customers don’t buy cheap tickets in advance to re-sell them the day before the flight at much higher prices.

  1. Security

Terrorism is a very real threat to all travellers today, and airlines need to do everything in their power to ensure security for all. If name changes were easy, terrorist could use a false name that wouldn’t be on the security blacklist to book and thereby fly under the radar.

If you’re travelling domestically and you’ve made a mistake in your first name, you can still present your driver’s licence, which only shows your initial and last name, as identification. The same cannot be said however of your last name or if you’re travelling internationally when you have to present your passport as identification.

Typos aren’t the only issue with names on airlines though. What about middle names or hyphenated names?

  • What happens if I have forgotten my middle name?

In general, airlines specifically state that you must book your airline ticket in the exact manner such that it matches your passport, including your middle name. It’s not always possible though. Some airlines don’t even have a field to enter a middle name.

For most of the world, only the first and last names are all that truly matters. So, if you accidently skipped entering your middle name, relax you should be fine.

  • My name is hyphenated but this doesn’t show on the ticket. What now?

Is your name Williams-Smith? The hyphen won’t appear on your flight ticket, it will show WILLIAMSSMITH and that’s absolutely ok. The same goes for hyphenated first names such as for example Mary-Ann, which will reflect as MARYANN.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) which supports aviation with global standards for airline safety, security, efficiency and sustainability, only allows three letters to be changed in the instance of a spelling mistake. For this reason, in order to change a name, an airline must cancel and rebook a ticket.

Useful tip:

Always ensure that you provide your booking agent with the correct spelling of your full name and surname as stated in your ID document or passport. In the event that you do get married and you change your surname after a booking has already been made consult with your travel agent on the best direction to follow and do not try to take it upon yourself to make any big changes. Travel with peace of mind and leave it to the experts to steer you in the right direction.