Flying can be stressful enough, but along with the queues, the delays and the surcharges, passengers are complaining to us about a new problem: the sky-high cost of making a simple mistake.

Graham Cheale booked two flights from Southampton to Paris with Air France, via Lastminute.com in August - one for him and one for his colleague Andy Kassel.

“…because I always call him Andy. I wrote his name down Andy on the booking form. But they need to have the name the same as what’s written in the passport, which is Andrew. In the morning I had a reminder email and realised there was a mistake.”

Although this was one small error it resulted in Graham paying £85 to change a ‘y’ to ‘rew’ - £40 to Air France and £45 to Lastminute.com.

The reason that airlines claim to add on these big penalties is to deter the mis-use of flight tickets explains Travel Expert Simon Calder:

“…Simon Calder would book a trip a year ahead, maybe for a Christmas trip to Australia, pay £1000 and then three days beforehand, sell it to someone else change the name and charge them £2000, therefore doubling his money. But of course the vast number of cases are nothing to do with that, they’re just simple errors.”

If you booked directly with the airline the penalty can be unfair but if you booked through a third party or agent the complications can be even more extreme.

“None of them want to do anything but perhaps charge you hundreds of pounds for an innocent mistake.” says Simon Calder.

Caroline Orie booked flights to South Africa through the online travel agent Expedia in May. But she then realised her passport was still in her maiden name. She contacted Expedia one week later and Expedia explained to her that she would need to discuss this with BMI, who was the airline.

“And then I called BMI and they said to me it’s completely fine. I can just go to the check-in desk with my original marriage certificate and that would be fine.”

However when the itinerary arrived, she found she wasn’t travelling with BMI after all but with South African Airways which has an entirely different policy when it comes to correcting simple mistakes.

“About 6 days before I flew to South Africa, Expedia advised that the only way to rectify my booking was to cancel my existing booking in my married name and rebook it in my maiden name.”

Because South African Airways insist that your ticket must match your passport, Caroline felt she had little option but to buy a whole new flight - with just one week to go before departure – that flight now cost a whopping £3,100.

“If for any reason someone would have indicated to me that South African Airways was the actual airline I would be flying with to South Africa, I would have rang South African Airways and clarified this issue as soon as possible.”

So far we’ve heard from passengers who were penalised because of mistakes they themselves made.

But what if you believe the error isn’t down to you? Well, if you’ve booked a Ryanair flight to France like Melanie Urbain-Grainger then apparently, you’ll be disappointed.

Melanie was travelling to Limoges to see her Grandparents, which she does every year. And it was just a week’s holiday. When she went to print out the boarding passes, 2 days before they were due to fly the names read Mrs ddd assff and Dr ddd ddd.

Melanies mother Francoise called Ryan Air on the night, when they realised the error and because it was after hours this call cost them £1 a minute. They spent the next two days ringing and explaining the problem and trying to make Ryan Air understand that it wasn’t a change of name but to correct a mistake they had made.

“They just kept saying that we had made a mistake”, says Melanie.

The Urbain-Graingers were quoted an additional £110 each way to change their boarding names - a total of £440 which is £212 more than the original flight costs - Melanie and her mum simply couldn’t afford it – and so had to cancel their trip.

“Most of us would be reasonable enough to say well I made a mistake, silly me, I’m gonna have to pay £20, £30 maybe £40 for that. I’m detecting a number of airlines are actually using this as a revenue raising opportunity, absolutely squeezing the traveller and it’s simply not fair.” explains Simon Calder.

Company Responses

 

Lastminute.Com

Our priority is transparency for our customers and ensuring that they understand our terms and conditions, in which we clearly stipulate our cancellation fee policy and/or amendment to any bookings process. lastminute.com are entirely at the mercy of the airline and therefore not at liberty to affect any changes to a booking without strict authorisation from the airline”

 

Expedia says,

Expedia adheres to the guidelines and prices set by airlines and any deviation from the airline policy must be approved by the airline to ensure the change will be accepted. If a mistake is made in a booking, Expedia liaises with the relevant airline on the customer’s behalf to enquire about the airline’s policy for name changes in each case. Expedia charges no admin fee to assist with a name change or to reissue a ticket when an error occurs. For security reasons the name on the ticket must exactly match the name written in the passport, which means that in the vast majority of cases even a name amendment will require a new ticket to be issued. These policies are set by the airline.

Our priority is to ensure that when a customer checks in for their flight their ticket will be valid for each leg of the journey. Mrs. Orie’s flight was a code-share agreement between BMI and SAA. We need to take into account all airline policies to ensure that the customer can complete their journey having checked in at the initial stage. Our agent was advised by our direct airline contact that it was necessary to reissue the ticket. Any charges, or fluctuation in ticket price are outside of Expedia’s control as these changes will be subject to the prices set by the airlines at the time of rebooking. When the agent rebooked the flight with the correct name, this was rebooked directly with the airline’s ticket distribution system to keep the price as low as possible and removed any profit Expedia could make from this sale. So we can confirm that Expedia made no profit on either the administration of this change or on the rebooking of the ticket.

When customers book tickets on Expedia, they are reminded at multiple points to check their booking details(an example is included below). If a mistake is made, we would advise customers to call as soon as possible, as it is usually easier to make a change on a booking made on the same day as the booking can usually be regarded as a duplicate and voided. If an error is reported outside of this timeframe, Expedia can only liaise with the airline and make the customer aware of any additional costs.

We would urge all our customers to check their details during booking and immediately after so they avoid having to pay any extra money for their travel.

 

South African Airways says,

South African Airways would like to express regret to Mrs Orie for the problems she experienced whilst trying to change the name on her ticket.

The ticket had been booked via Expedia under her maiden name as opposed to her married name and involved multiple airlines.

South African Airways would like to clarify that in this time of heightened security we are unable to accept tickets issued without the passenger’s name exactly as it appears on their passport under any circumstances. According to procedures set by the South African

Department of Home Affairs, passenger’s who risk travelling with a different name on their ticket to that appearing on their passport could be refused boarding or deported, and the airline will risk being fined.

South African Airways' policy for name changes to tickets that have already been issued is to offer a refund minus an administration fee of GBP50.00 per ticket for all bookings made directly. The passenger then has the opportunity to book a new ticket with their correct details at the current fare.

We advised Mrs Orie of this when she first contacted us on 26th June 2012, six days before her scheduled departure date of 2nd July 2012.

Once again, we would like to express regret to Mrs Orie for the problems she experienced.

Air France

We can confirm that Air France has an internal policy on passengers’ name change for flight reservations and tickets.

Whilst we would normally expect passengers to provide our Reservations Agents, Travel Agents and online purchases with the correct spelling of their name, as it appears in their passports. We appreciate that sometimes passengers may have valid reasons to change their names on issued tickets, such as spelling mistakes or a change in civil status and as such, passengers are advised to contact their point of sale (Travel Agents) or our Reservations Department for assistance.

Air France normally applies an administration fee to reissue tickets.

For tickets purchased directly from our Reservations Department or via our website no administration fee is charged.

However, Air France applies an administration fee to reissue tickets for tickets purchased via a Travel Agent. The reason being that costs are involved in the reporting / issuing process involved via the systems used by Agents.

Following an investigation into the history of Mr Kassell’s reservation I can confirm that an administration fee of GBP40 was applicable as his ticket was purchased via a Travel Agent.