Can you change names on airline tickets?

There is almost always a way to correct or change names on an airline ticket.

And it does not have to cost a fortune.

But, having more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry, I can tell you that the answer to the question is airline and situation-specific.

Quick summary on how to correct and change names on an airline ticket.
1. Ask airline to correct name free of charge
2. For minor errors, ask for "Ok to travel" confirmation 
3. Ask to correct name against a fee 
4. Cancel booking against fee and rebook with correct name.
5. Solutions to name errors when all else fails

4 common name errors on airline tickets (with solutions)

Here I will address 4 of the most common name error problems I have encountered over the years. I will also present the best ways to go about solving each problem.

As a bonus, I will include the best way to solve the problem when there is no way to change names on an airline ticket.

1. Fixing minor name errors on airline tickets

It is not unusual for travelers to misspell names when booking flight tickets.  

Especially when booking tickets online and late at night. You must enter the names, date of birth, and maybe even frequent traveler numbers of all travelers in your party. And to make it worse, there is often a clock counting down at the top of the page.

It is easy to see how misspellings can occur.

As a rule, misspellings that do not change the look or sound of your names are less severe. However, it gets more complicated if the misspelling creates a new or even unusual-sounding name.

Compare the below:

Correct nameMisspelled name
JoeJooe
JoeJoel
Example of how just one wrong letter can create a new name

You should contact the airline or the travel agent with all minor spelling errors. Verify that you can travel on the ticket even though the name is wrong.

Ask for a remark to be entered in your booking with the correct name to avoid discussions at check-in.

And always ask for a confirmation in writing that your ticket is clear for travel.

2. When you forgot to write all names

You should correct the entered name if you forgot to write the second part of a double-barrel last name.

If you, on the other hand, omitted to write your third given name, you should not have a problem. But always contact the airline or travel agent directly to verify.

Please note: if you travel internationally and visas or travel authorizations are involved, you need to make sure that names match.

3. When you write all names and some names are still missing or cut off!

You book and pay for your ticket, and all is well. You may even have received your e-ticket, and all looks well. 

But when you log in to the airline’s website to book your seating, you notice that some names have been cut off!

You know you wrote all 38 characters straight from the passport when you booked the ticket. And the order confirmation you received by mail looks fine.

How did this happen?

The simple explanation is that the airline’s name field can only hold a limited number of characters. If too many characters are entered, names need to be shortened according to a certain logic. First, the titles are removed (Mr, Ms, Dr., etc.), then they look to shorten or omit middle names, etc.

When booking directly with the airline, you do not need to worry as the airline’s name-shortening logic is being used.

But, if you book with an online travel agent, make sure that the name shortening makes sense. And if you are in doubt, contact the airline and travel agent to verify that the ticket is valid for travel.

Running online travel agencies, we had to write our own often airline specific name shortening logic. 

4. Needing to change to a completely different name on airline ticket

Until it happens to you, it may seem strange that someone would book a ticket and enter incorrect passenger names. But apart from plain and simple mistakes, the top two reasons I have come across are:

The ticket is booked using a nickname instead of the proper given name

Common examples include Chris for Christopher, Sam for Samantha or Samuel, Bob for Robert, and other similar types of mistakes.

Here you need to contact the airline or travel agent to correct the name, especially if you are traveling internationally to countries where the connection between a nickname and a real name is lost in translation.

Name changes due to marriage

It happens more often than you would think. The ticket is booked using someone’s soon-to-be married name. But then we forget that the passport did not update automatically.

If you have booked a flight ticket using your maiden name, most airlines will offer to update your ticket if you produce a marriage license or other documentation to prove your claim. 

Best way to fix name changes, errors, and misspelled names

1. Ask the airline to correct the name for free

First, do remember that the travel industry is a service industry. The agents and representatives you contact will try to help you. They want to help you. And they will help you correct or change names on an airline ticket as it is their job to give service.

It is not a sign of incompetence if they cannot fix your name error as quickly and easily as you would like. Travel agents have to follow the rules of the airline to avoid fees and penalties being levied against the travel agent at a later date.

Also, speaking from experience, you will receive better and more professional assistance if you describe the situation truthfully.

Having run Online travel agencies I have had to produce server logs to show that we did register the name as it was entered by the traveller. And it is always more fun to assist a customer that is truthful.

2. For minor errors, ask for “Ok to travel” confirmation

For minor mistakes, a note in your booking showing the correct spelling can be enough to solve the problem. Ask for a remark and the correct spelling of names to be entered in the booking system.

This type of remark should be free and ask for confirmation in writing. Contact your travel agent or the airline directly to verify.

3. Ask to correct name against a fee

Contact the airline and ask about the possibility of correcting the name against a fee. If you booked via a travel agent, the airline might ask you to contact them instead.

But always try to get the airline to assist you if possible. The fee will vary with the airline, and if you booked via a travel agent, they might also charge a fee. 

4. Cancel booking against fee and re-book with the correct name

For tickets you can cancel against a fee; you have the option to cancel the booking and re-book with your name spelled correctly.

But do keep in mind that you are not automatically guaranteed to get the same price for your new ticket as you paid for your original ticket.

Name errors and what to do when all else fails

There are airlines with stringent rules. And there are situations with no available solutions or time to fix the problem.

So what should you do when it is not possible to correct or change names on an airline ticket?

1. Enter remark in booking

Ask the airline to enter a remark with the correct name in the booking and to tag the remark for the attention of the check-in staff.

It is no guarantee, but entering a remark is better than doing nothing if you are going to take a chance and travel anyway.

2. Cancel, re-book and learn for the future

Contact the airline and offer to cancel the booking against a penalty. Offer to re-book, paying the difference in price for your new ticket.

Now, this is not a cheap solution. But, I have had online customers opt for this solution when for example, 1 out of 4 tickets are affected, and the family cruise holiday is at stake.

Now, the lesson to be learned is to take great care next time you book an airline ticket. Be careful when choosing the correct day and month for travel and when entering passenger names. This also applies if you send passenger details to your travel agent by email.

Pleae note: whenever visas or entry requirements are involved it is especially important to enter correct and matching passenger information.

Finally, no one likes to pay extra fees. But it is better to fix the problem straight away. After all, the alternative is to risk being denied boarding at the airport and losing all that money you spent on tickets with that ultra-luxury cruise liner.

Bonus: Understanding naming principles

The following 5 principles hold for all types of name errors, misspellings, and name changes. Some may sound like terrible news, but as you have seen above, we do have suggested solutions for all situations.

1. Names should match passport

The main rule for names on airline tickets is quite simple. Passenger names on airline tickets should match the names on the passport or approved identity card used for travel.

Suppose names exceed the maximum number of allowed characters. In that case, the airline’s reservation system will shorten the names, usually starting with the title or pronoun, then middle names where possible, and so on.

You should always enter all names per passport when booking an airline ticket.

2. Last names or family names are more important

Generally speaking, name errors affecting your last name are more likely to cause problems than first names or middle names. 

But again, include all names per your passport when booking your ticket.

3. Airline tickets for international travel have a lower tolerance for errors

Name errors and misspellings on tickets for international travel are more likely to cause problems if not corrected.

Even a slight name variation on your ticket can cause problems. Especially if, for example, visas contain name records with different spellings.

4. The airline’s rules to name corrections always apply

The airline decides what is possible and what is not. The airline will also stipulate if a fee is payable.

Yes, even if you have booked through a travel agent, the agent must follow the airline’s rules.

Each ticket or fare basis has its own set of rules. But for the most part, the rules for name changes are the same for all tickets in a given cabin class for any given airline. 

And yes, this means there are most likely stricter rules in Economy Class than Business or First Class.

5. More challenging to change and correct names with mixed airlines

The airline you booked your ticket with is not necessarily flying all legs on your booked itinerary.

Let me give you an example: If you fly across the Atlantic, you could, for example, have a Delta ticket where Air France or KLM flies some legs or parts of the journey.

And for many airlines, rules permitting name changes are different and do not include tickets where at least one flight in the booking is operated by a partner airline.

An excellent example of this principle would be Scandinavian Airlines. Here, a name change is allowed for the equivalent of less than USD 50. But not if a Star Alliance partner operates a flight.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..