Don’t dare get your Daves and Davids mixed up, it’ll cost you
SAA refuses to refund ticket it cancelled after dad used his son's shortened name when he book it
“I have an interesting but verrry frustrating story regarding SAA which I desperately want the general public to hear!”
So began Malcolm White’s email to me about the online booking mistake which cost him R10,000.
In early January, White booked flights through Travelstart for his family from Port Elizabeth to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on several airlines – FlySafair, British Airways and SAA.
But he used the shortened versions of his sons’ names – “Dave” and “Chris” instead of David and Christopher.
“Chris flew from PE to Joburg on BA on February 27 and had no problem, but he was told he couldn’t use his Joburg to Vic Falls return flight because of the name discrepancy, and was forced to buy a new ticket on the spot for R6,000,” White said. “His original ticket, which cost R4,828, was cancelled, with the offer of a refund of just R46!”
After that, White realised he’d better change the name on his other son’s April 19 tickets.
“FlySafair made the changes immediately with no penalties, but SAA didn’t want to know my story and I have had to cancel Dave’s ticket – R3,517 not refundable – and purchase a new ticket for him as “David” at a cost of R4,038.”
So that lapse of concentration cost White more than R10,000. “I went to the SAA office at PE airport to talk to them about the issue face to face, but they just fobbed me off with ‘This is SAA policy’,” he said.
Two years ago, when I raised the issue of “finger trouble” bookings with SAA, spokeman Tlali Tlali told me: “We are mindful that from time to time there are instances when name errors do occur as a practical real life challenge.
“We are currently working on a mechanism to address the implemented locks on passenger names, meaning names on an existing reservation which ordinarily cannot be changed at all will soon be permitted for correction on the same booking. “Generally for domestic flights, passengers may be accepted for travel with very minor errors, as proof of identification includes additional documents, such as drivers licences.”
Then came the “but”…
“However this is not possible for over-border and international travel as there are secure flight information rules that are country specific and South African Airways is expected to maintain the same. In such instances the traveller is likely to be affected by a request to purchase a new ticket with the correct name and surname details matching all travel documents – the original ticket with the incorrect name details may then be submitted for a full refund less a standard service admin fee.”
So why did White only get a refund of R46 for the one ticket, and nothing for the other?
Tlali said while the airline appreciates the frustration that its name change policy causes passengers, “the manner in which the name change request was facilitated [in White’s case] is the only option available, working within the framework of the current policy”.
“We have been able to make policy changes that make it easy for us to assist passengers who travel domestically … so we are considering a review of the current policy for regional and international flights to make it more consumer friendly, so it can facilitate and enable more ease of travel and not inhibit it,” he said.
“We will make the necessary announcements once the policy has been reviewed to align it with industry trends without compromising compliance and/or governance.”
Sadly that will be too late for White, who was inhibited by having to forfeit his prepaid tickets and buy new, more expensive tickets for his sons because he used their shortened first names by mistake.
FlySafair’s head of sales and distribution, Kirby Gordon, said civil aviation regulations were quite specific about passengers’ names and dates of birth.
“We are supposed to check them to ensure that our manifests are on point when we are audited by them,” he said. “But a simple correction of a name spelling or maiden versus married name is definitely something that any reasonable airline should do free of any charges.”
Some airlines’ systems were antiquated and thus incapable of changing a name on a ticket, requiring passengers who have made even a tiny mistake to cancel the original ticket and book a new one, Gordon said. “I suspect that these old system limitations are what originally gave rise to this silly rule.”
There was no reason why an existing passenger couldn’t switch their old incorrectly named ticket for a new one in the same fare class, at the same price, he said.
“Once you have a confirmed sale, it’s confirmed. So a change to that person’s name is no skin off an airline’s teeth from a financial perspective.
“If you change flights, that’s different because the demand of the flights is different. You can’t expect a free change from your R399 ticket to a R1,000 ticket, because then the airline would lose, but a name change is not a change on flight – there’s no switch in the demand curve for the flight, so there’s actually no justification to levy that charge, in my opinion.”
Makes sense to me. Let’s hope that SAA policy-amendment announcement happens soon.
Meanwhile, if you’re making a flight booking – particularly if it’s a regional or international one on SAA – take your time over the name. Make sure it’s identical to the name on the passport, or that momentary lapse in concentration will cost you plenty.