With most airlines you can book tickets and specify your name and then it’s a different set of fields where you enter your TSA ‘Secure Flight Data’ — the name, date of birth, and gender that will be transmitted to the TSA.
I especially like this because ticketing done by airline agents sometimes involves name misspellings, no matter how many times you have them go over it and no matter how clearly you spell things out using the zulu alphabet. Which won’t ultimately matter because the TSA at the security checkpoint doesn’t generally create issues over minor misspellings. But you still want to transmit the correct name for ‘Secure Flight’.
tarting this weekend, on Jan. 20th, we will begin asking for only one name – this will be the name which exactly matches the name on the government-issued photo ID with which you’ll be traveling.
And United is even going to be changing the names on MileagePlus accounts, in some cases automatically.
If there is a minor variance between your MileagePlus profile (Bob Smith) and your stored ID (Robert T Smith), we’ll automatically update the name on your MileagePlus account to match the name on the ID that we have stored for you. We’re changing it to the name on your ID because the name we print on your boarding pass must match the government-issued photo ID you use when you fly.
…If we can’t determine a solid match between your names (e.g. James Timothy Smith on your account and Robert Smith on your ID), you’ll be asked to choose which name is correct.
They’ve pre-answered some expected questions as well.
- This update won’t affect already-ticketed reservations. You’ll still be able to travel even if the ticketed name and the name don’t match exactly but are considered acceptable matches (e.g. Mike vs. Michael or JT versus John Thomas).
- Your United Club and 2013 Premier credentials will remain valid, even in the case of significant name changes.
- If you’re a member of a Trusted Traveler program (such as Global Entry), make sure your name information there also matches the name on your ID.Matching these are important because they must be the same in case you have also opted-in to the TSA Pre-Check program and you want to be considered for expedited security screening. Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to see (much less modify) your Trusted Traveler profile, so it will be up to you to do this.
What could possibly go wrong?
The biggest issue for me remains misspelling on a ticket, you could still get TSA secure flight information correct (and this latter was changeable — go get the name changed on the ticket itself…!).
United is going to be making its own decisions about your name, if it decides ‘wrong’ then customers need to be cognizant of this so they can update it themselves.
But I suspect this will lead to tons of confusion, when United asks you to choose your name. For instance, your account presents you the option to chose from 3 names. Bob Smith, on your MileagePlus account. Robert L Smith on your drivers license. Robert Lee Smith on your passport. Which do you choose? You travel domestically with your drivers license, internationally with your passport. Neither the second nor the third are ‘wrong’.
And while this supposedly doesn’t affect previously booked tickets, I wonder how it will interact with elite recognition on those flights… the name on your account changes, the name on previously issued tickets do not, so there’s a risk that the name mismatch between account and those grandfathered tickets could create problems with seating, upgrades, and even mileage credit.
Maybe United IT has thought through this effectively, wargamed this extensively, and we should simply trust that “they’ve got this.” But what are the odds of that?