David Harm is worried about his wife's ticket to Omsk, Russia.
When he made her reservation through Aeroflot's Web site, his finger slipped - I hit the 'L' key instead of the 'K'
key" - and misspelled his wife's last name (Slirtenko" instead of Skirtenko").
I did not realize my error until I received the e-mail and checked the information," says Harm, who lives in The
Hague, Netherlands. When I called Aeroflot immediately to address the problem, I was told the name cannot be changed,and that a note regarding the misspelling was placed in the record and that my wife should have no problem."
Should Harm be concerned?
His question is hands-down the most common one I get from travelers - not just air travelers, but all travelers - after
the Transportation Security Administration's strict new Secure Flight requirement went into effect. Although he doesn't
have the TSA to tangle with in Europe, he shares a problem with a lot of Americans.
At a time like this, with governments imposing new security rules, airlines teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and
many hotels facing foreclosure, travelers often have more questions than answers. Which is why I thought I'd devote a
column answering the most common travel questions, starting with the ticket-name one.
Airlines can change the name on a ticket easily. They choose not to. A reservations agent for a major airline recently
e-mailed me, just to let me know. Yes, she confided, a name change is as easy as a keystroke - and yes, our employers
don't let us do it because we can charge good money for the fix.
It's not all bad news, though. An airline can still make a notation on your ticket for free (this works only with
typographical errors or easily recognized mistakes, like flip-flopping the first and last name). Only one domestic
airline, Allegiant, actually allows you to change the name on a ticket for free. And if you work through a travel
agency and spot the mistake soon after the reservation is made, your agent may be able to fix the ticket at no extra
Here are some other common questions:
Can I get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket?
have a year from the time you booked your ticket - not the date of your flight - to use a ticket credit, minus a change
fee. This is becoming an increasingly hollow promise, because change fees can be more than the fare, but that's a topic
for another time. One more thing: Airlines sometimes make exceptions to their nonrefundability rules when there's an
emergency, disaster or a death in the family.
Do I need a passport to visit Canada or Mexico?
I missed my cruise. Can I catch the next one?
Check out the cruise contract - the legal agreement between you and your cruise line - and you'll find that it's just
not gonna happen. Buy travel insurance, or get to port extra early.
How do I get a bereavement fare?
fare when a relative died. But business travelers, for whom those walk-up fares were invented, got smart and began
claiming they had a death in the family in order to qualify for the reduced prices. So airlines pulled the plug on the
special fares. You're better off trying to bid for a fare on Priceline or Hotwire, or asking your travel agent for an
inexpensive consolidator fare.
I've spent hours on the phone with my travel company, and I'm not getting anywhere. What do I do?
speaks English, or where the English they speak can't be understood by anyone here. E-mails can be escalated to someone
in the States - and those get real
b Can a car-rental company charge me for damage I'm not responsible for?
Yes. But it needs to prove the damage occurred while you were renting the car and that they paid for the repairs
afterward. And that can be difficult. Most bills from car rental companies don't show anything
and neither do their followup letters.
If you copy the state insurance commissioner on your replies that politely inquire about your responsibility, chances
are your car rental company will give up and find someone else to bother.
Can I call 911 if my flight is stuck on the tarmac and I want to get off?
Department of Transportation has. Last month, DOT ordered airlines to let people off planes delayed on the tarmac after
three hours. In other words, calling 911 or faking a heart attack is plain unnecessary now that the Obama
administration has finally acted.
A 911 call will only confuse the issue. You're better off letting flight crews and government oversight do its jobs.
And if you're stuck for more than three hours, phone the airline, airport, DOT - or your
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