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TSA's Secure Flight Program: What It Means for You

3. Update ALL your accounts. Be sure that every airline, booking site, frequent flier program or travel agent that you use has your correct full name, birthday and gender listed.

us passport suit pocket business travel4. Be aware of what appears on your ID. After reading up on Secure Flight, I took a look at my government ID's. With my passport in one hand and my driver's license in the other, I realized, oops! Looks like I already have a problem. My license says Edward C. Hewitt, but my passport says Edward Charles Hewitt. Do I need to book domestic travel (for which I would use my driver's license) as Edward C., and international travel (for which I would use my passport) as Edward Charles? The answer (at present, at least): yes, that is exactly right.

The simplest thing to do might be to get your two favored ID's (typically a driver's license and passport) to read identically, but this may not be as easy as it sounds. After checking the licenses of a half-dozen friends, it looks to me like my state's DMV strongly prefers a middle initial (due to space constraints, I suspect; a driver's license is pretty small). And if I do want to change one government ID because another government agency requires something different, most likely I am going to have to pay for it, but that's another story for another time. For the time being, it appears you may need to think ahead to which ID you will use for a particular trip and make your reservation using that legal name.

5. Dealing with suffixes, hyphenations and more. Since the program got underway in August 2009, some travelers have reported discrepancies with regard to suffixes and hyphenated names -- Jr. vs. Junior vs II, for instance -- and the booking sites that I reviewed for this article display varying ways of collecting this information. One had a long dropdown box with almost every imaginable name suffix; another just had a box into which you type the suffix as you like to use it.

Horowitz again: "TSA recognizes that name formats on government identification will vary depending on the issuer. Due to these variations, TSA has built some flexibility into the Secure Flight program. Passengers should strive to book travel reservations using the name that appears on their government-issued ID, but small differences such as a hyphen should not impact a passenger's travel. Secure Flight can accept names with or without additional elements such as suffixes, titles or apostrophes. When making a reservation, passengers should follow the prompts provided by the airline reservation system. If the airline does not allow hyphens in a passenger name, a space should be used instead of the hyphen."

6. Booking for others. If you are making reservations for your family or friends, you will need to make sure you use the exact name on each family member's ID of choice. If your friend's license says Mary Margaret and you know her and book her as Peggy, she is going to have a problem getting to Houston.

7. Using a travel agent. Similarly, if you use a travel agent, you will need to make sure he or she knows not only your full legal name, but more specifically your legal name as it appears on the form of ID you will be using on that specific trip. Again, it is incumbent on the traveler to make sure the travel agent gets this right; blaming it on your travel agent is not going to be well received by airport security. They may work with you, but can't just let everyone who blames their agent pass without additional screening.

8. Name changes. If you make a name change for any reason, until your new ID's have been issued, you will need to remember to book under the name that appears on your ID.

9. Difficult or unusual names. If you have a name that is difficult to spell or unfamiliar to Western ears, you'll need the patience of Job and the diction of a schoolmarm to book a flight over the phone. I have a friend whose last name is Pfaendtner (pronounced more or less "Fentner"); that's three vowels and six consonants, including four consonants in a row. Good luck getting the agent in a noisy US Airways call center to get that right every time. You will need to be insistent in this case, and you should check your itinerary immediately upon receipt when mailed or emailed to you.

laptop computer woman smile laugh african american10. Verifying your reservation. In fact, that last bit of advice goes for everyone. Be sure to confirm the name on your reservation well in advance of travel, and then check in for your flight as early as possible, preferably using the online check-in service on your airline's Web site. Because any issues will arise at the time you request a boarding pass, by checking in online 24 hours before travel, you can avoid any check-in counter delays resulting from the new program -- and if you are going to be denied a boarding pass for security reasons, you will find out enough in advance that you can do something about it.

11. Other info. Gender and date of birth must also match up -- so you'd better make sure your travel agent knows your birthday.

12. Award travel. Traveling on award travel using your frequent flier account seems the most likely source of problems for many travelers; these programs tend to issue tickets in the name you used at sign-up for the program, not the name you might supply at the time of booking. Some frequent flier programs are taking proactive steps to contact members; others are not. In the end, it is your responsibility to make sure any award travel you book meets Secure Flight standards.

13. Redeeming unused travel. The new program also makes redeeming travel for unused flights potentially cumbersome. If you purchased the old flight before Secure Flight procedures were in place, you will need to make an official change to your reservation to be in compliance with the new standards.

14. Fixing problems. Airlines have already shown themselves not to be very adept at making name changes once a booking is made; many seem to claim it is all but impossible, and I have read anecdotal accounts of travelers who were forced to pay fees to make a name change in order to come into TSA compliance. The TSA has no official position on fees as they apply to Secure Flight; you need to check with your airline. If you encounter this problem, I would recommend emphasizing that the change is only due to complying with law, and perhaps send a note to the TSA if a fee is still applied.

15. Character count limits. To return to blaming the computers, some software systems have character count limits (a single initial for a middle name), or do not allow hyphenated names, or don't have a field for "IV" or the like. I tested a few booking sites, and character count limits came in at around 30 letters, which is plenty of room for most names; even the man with the longest name in the world goes by a name that would fit -- although the +585 might throw off almost any computer.

16. Traveling with kids. If you are traveling with children who do not yet have ID, check their birth certificates before you book, and bring them with you.

17. Further reading. Read up on Secure Flight not only at the TSA Web site (see their FAQ's) but also at the Web site of your airline or booking site. For example, Expedia has information here and here.


Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
TravelersEd@aol.com
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.
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