Why Can't Airlines Understand Same Names? - Running with Miles
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Why Can’t Airlines Understand Same Names?

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This is pretty much a rant, so you can just pass over it if you want. 🙂

When you purchase an airline ticket (or redeem for an award), you have to put down your name as it appears on your government ID, your birthdate, and your gender. With those three bits of information, unless you have a twin and you both have the same exact name, it is easy to differentiate individuals. So, since airline systems require that information, why can their own systems not process that a family may have a SR and JR (or, in my case, a III and a IV), especially when I put down the suffix as well?

Traveling with the same name (sr, jr, iii, iv, and v)

This happened before when traveling with my father (the JR). The airline would not allow us to be on the same reservation because we had the same name. They said that we needed to insert some other character in one of our names to allow the system to book it (because I wanted to keep the reservation so my dad didn’t lose his preferred seat and other perks of traveling with me due to my elite status). They wanted to write my name as – Char1es (inserting a 1 for a “l”). This is even though we have different middle names, suffixes, and birth dates!

Now, we come to Turkish Airlines. So far, I had not had a problem with United and my son and I traveling together. But, we have a United award ticket that has us traveling on Turkish Airlines. When I was checking the reservation, everything was fine. When I went to check-in, it showed only 4 of us instead of the 5. The one missing was my son. I called their service center (which, in my several calls to them over the last year or so, is really lacking in good customer service) and was told it was United’s problem. I told them that everything is fine with United – it is their own system that dropped my son from the check-in process. He checked and came back and said he thinks it is because we have the same name and we shouldn’t be traveling together like that. ?!?! What in the world? I cannot travel with my son because we have the same name? We have different birth dates and different suffixes (not to mention different frequent flyer numbers), so why can’t the system do a better job of understanding who is who? I have not had this problem with United or US Airways – just Turkish and Delta.

So, his solution was to just check all of us in and check my son in at the airport. Sorry, but I do not trust the system to not mess that up since they cannot separate us in the first place, so we will all wait to check in until tomorrow at the airport. Just makes an inconvenience since we have to arrive there earlier than we would need to otherwise. Hopefully, everything works out ok!

Anyone else have to deal with this? Can anyone that knows these airline systems explain why this happens and the secure flight data has nothing to do with making the distinction?

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

10 Comments

  • It’s rather common. The reservation systems are based on really old technology. Due to lack of meaningful competition, high barriers to entry or switching, they are expensive to use, slow to upgrade, and generally bad software.

    I know that Sabre does name lookup by using only first and last name, and removing vowels. If it cannot uniquely identify two people, then it usually will not allow self service check-in (kiosk, web, etc.). So two people on same reservation with same name cannot be distinguished, and therefore you cannot both check-in. To go to the level of asking for something unique, like birthday, to validate the user gets computationally expensive (takes a lot of time to process) as it is not a part of “header” information, but rather detailed record information. This cost was arbitrarily decided to be too high and the code was never universally developed.

    It’s an ugly system, for sure. But a common problem that has yet to be solved.

  • I know how you feel. My father and I have the same name (I’m the JR) but luckily I was never dropped in the reservation. On my passport, the JR is listed as part of the last name so I always put that when asked (so my name on the reservation would always match the ID.) What sucks though is on my ticket they exclude all the spaces in the last name so my name looks like Joey Smithjr, or if I had your last name, it would have been Joey Barkowskijr.

  • Yes, I am the “IV” and my father is “III”. We are delta flyers and have never had an issue; that also extends to our many global travels on various airlines (fingers crossed). My method up to now has been to include my suffix as part of my last name such as SMITHIV AND SMITHIII. It seems to work for us and is still “legal” since it is our name. Certain times I’m forced to do this if the airline doesn’t have a space for the “IV” suffix.

  • And then comes the TSA…….my husband has a JR in his name. His airline frequent flier program has the JR but a lot of times when he flies with partner airlines, they leave off the JR altogether. This presents a problem gong thru TSA here in the States. Especially careful TSA agents will ask why the JR was left off….or check-in agents will say that it will mess up the “known traveler lists” if the names don’t match up. He has a known traveler number since he has Global Entry. We always put the JR in to a reservation but often times it gets left out of the ticketing (LH) or screws up the elite frequent flier info.

  • AFAIK only Americans have suffixes of that nature – it’s unreasonable to expect overseas airlines to have systems designed for such rarities – any more than to expect US airlines to be able to cope with aspects of foreign names.

  • Ugh… My son has the same first name as my husband but he goes by his middle name. So far we haven’t had any reservation issues but I hate going through security or customs.

    He is young enough that he doesn’t really know that his first name is his first name (we’ve tried explaining but he just stares at us like we are crazy). So, the TSA and customs agents always ask him if he is “John” and he just keeps looking around like he has no clue that they are talking to him. We have to explain that he goes by his middle name and most of the time we are met with a lot of confusion.

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