Steph Ulyett's airline ticket should have said Stephanie," of course, but she's always gone by Steph, so that's the
name her partner typed into Expedia when he reserved their flights to Chicago.
Unfortunately, a commonly misunderstood Transportation Security Administration initiative called Secure Flight almost
made her miss her plane. At least that's what she thought. A new government rule says the name you use when buying your
ticket must match your ID - which Ulyett's did not.
There's good news for travelers like her in 2010. Several new laws and policies are scheduled to take effect that might
upgrade the quality of your trip. Among them are
Secure Flight, with its lofty promise to improve the travel experience for all passengers," a new credit-card bill and
stricter disability rules for
But back to Ulyett. The Derbyshire, England-based factory manager, whose partner had made her reservation on the
Expedia.uk Web site, was told she couldn't fix the name on her ticket.
The only alternative is to cancel your original booking and rebook your flights in the correct name," Expedia told her
in an e-mail. In this case, I regret to advise you that your ticket is completely nonrefundable, including taxes."
That's nonsense. Under
Secure Flight, she might have been allowed to board her flight - TSA says it's built some flexibility" into the
program (and hopefully, a little common sense) that would have allowed her to travel without any trouble. More to the
point, United routinely makes notations on ticket records to clarify typographical errors or nicknames that
inadvertently ended up in reservations.
United agreed. I helped Ulyett get in touch with a
manager at the airline, and
after explaining her situation, United let her change her ticket at no extra charge.
Which new rules and regulations will affect your trip in 2010?
b Credit cards (February 2010)
Remember the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act signed into law last May? The full rules take
effect late this winter.
Already, credit-card companies are required to improve disclosure of changes in terms and conditions and they must also
give customers a minimum of 21 days to make a payment.
What does any of this have to do with travel? Plenty. One of the provisions of the law is that Congress will have
better credit-card industry oversight. Most travel purchases are made by credit card.
This law can't happen soon enough. Credit-card companies are raising rates in advance of February, and they've been
imposing ridiculous fees, including ones for purchases made with overseas companies (even if the transactions take
place in the United States, and in dollars). That's what happened to Dickerson Moreno when he charged a hotel room in
Atlanta to his credit card. His credit card, Citibank, added a 31 cent foreign transaction fee, because the money that
I paid in dollars was later exchanged to some foreign frequency, which is tantamount to a foreign transaction," he
says. I was never made aware of this."
b Secure Flight (March 2010)
The stated goal of this government program is to shift" pre-departure watch list matching responsibilities from
individual aircraft operators to the TSA. But by far the biggest
effect on passengers is that the names on their airline ticket and government ID now have to match. Secure Flight also
requires airlines and agents to collect a passenger's full name, date of birth and gender. Domestic airlines are
expected to introduce Secure Flight through this spring. By then it will expect travel agents like Expedia to begin
collecting the necessary data, according to the TSA.
Having a uniform - and
uniformly enforced - policy in place by next spring could be a positive development for airline passengers, who are
mostly just confused at this point.
b Air Carrier Access Act (May 2010)
Another important rule that promises to make air travel
easier for those with disabilities will take effect in late spring, making flights accessible, even if they're on
foreign carriers. (Many of the provisions of this rule were put in place this year, but extend to international
airlines in 2010.)
The Air Carrier Access Act would allow passengers to
carry FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators aboard, as well as other medical devices, according to Candy
Harrington, the editor of the magazine Emerging Horizons.
These rules are a long time coming. I've lost count of how many times I've heard from passengers who wanted to carry
oxygen onboard, but couldn't. Hopefully, this will bring much-needed change to the system, not just for domestic air
travelers, but also international travelers with disabilities.
Of course, we can have a
revised Air Carrier Access Act, Secure Flight and a credit card bill, but what good are any of them without
enforcement? In the next year, travelers are
likely to learn the answer to that question.
I hope travel companies will do the right thing. But I've been around long enough to know otherwise.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.
E-mail him at email@example.com, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.