Name Changes on International Air Tickets

Rules regarding name changes on airline tickets vary by airline and country of origin. However, for most airlines in most countries, the name in an international flight booking must match the name on the passport that will be traveled on. If it’s not, the name may need to be changed, either free of charge or at a cost. The worst case scenario is the ticket with an incorrect name may need to be forfeited and a new ticket purchased. The rules and practices described here apply to ticketing in New Zealand on airlines that fly out of New Zealand.

Common Reasons for Incorrect Names on Tickets

Despite requesting the passport name at the time of booking, travel agents and online websites are often supplied with incorrect names. Reasons for this vary. Sometimes people just forget what their exact passport names are if they haven’t traveled for many years. If people are more commonly referred to by their second name or a completely different name, then force of habit is usually responsible for getting it wrong. Many Chinese people who live in English-speaking countries have English names like Mary, Joanne, or Theresa, names that they are known by to everyone. Yet, their passports names are usually Chinese names.

At other times, the person who is making the booking is not the person who is traveling so when they are unsure, they guess. And sometimes, as happens frequently in New Zealand, people forget that it’s their maiden name that is in their passport, and not their married name. It’s not usually until people see their name on the confirmation or on their itinerary, that they realize that Bob should actually be Robert, that Chris should be Christopher, or that Maggie should be Margaret.

One thing that people don’t need to panic about is the fact that most global reservation systems don’t permit spaces between first and middle names either in reservations or on tickets. It may look odd but HOLDEN/ESMAVAIOLAMS is perfectly acceptable airline speak for Ms Esma Vaiola Holden.

In New Zealand, it’s also no longer acceptable to use an initial for the first name. One good thing about using a travel agent is that they will usually query shortened names because most of the time, the names are not correct. Up until recently, middle names were not compulsory on tickets. However, tightening security measures mean that more and more airlines are insisting on having all names including middle names on tickets.

Name Changes After Booking but Before Tickets are Issued

Airlines that fly out of New Zealand do not permit names on bookings to be changed, not even by one letter. The only aspect of the name that can be changed is the title e.g. Mr. to Ms. When this happens, the easiest way is for the seat to be rebooked in the correct name in a new booking. If the seat is no longer available, then the airline may be able to assist.

On international flights, airlines generally only permit name changes if an error has occurred in the spelling of a name. Most airlines do not permit one person’s name to be substituted for a completely different name. One exception to this is Virgin Blue. They allow name changes up to 24 hours prior to departure.

Name Changes After Tickets Have Been Issued

After a ticket has been issued, name errors generally are more complicated and expensive to fix. Some airlines on some routes leave the ticket as is and simply advise check-in staff of the correct name through notes in the reservation. On Air New Zealand for tickets issued in New Zealand, a legitimate error in name can be changed for NZD50 as long as there are no other carriers on the ticket.

Again depending on the outbound carrier and the country of origin, if there is more than one carrier on a ticket, then a name change might not be permitted. The only way around this may be to submit the ticket for a refund, and purchase a new ticket. If the ticketing carrier is sympathetic, they may waive the cancellation penalty in lieu of a new ticket purchased. However, this is not guaranteed. Neither is it guaranteed that the seats can be purchased for the same fare as the original ticket.

A Small Price to Pay for Peace of Mind

Whilst rules are different for name changes on airlines the world over, names on international tickets almost always need to match the name of the passport. A name error that is not rectified prior to departure, can result in the passenger being denied boarding at check-in. For piece of mind, it’s best to get name change errors fixed even if there is a cost.


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