TSA Needs Your Exact Name When You Fly Now

Government Regulation, Safety/Security

The TSA is finally transitioning from airline handling of the watch lists to the long-delayed and oft-criticized Secure Flight program, and that means there will be some changes in the way you book your flight. Last week we saw the first change, and now you better be careful what name you use.

I’ll just go ahead and assume that most people here book under their actual names and not some random name just for fun, especially since that’s not exactly permissible. But this rule does say that you have to book your tickets under the exact name that you have on the ID you plan on using.

What? You were doing that already? Maybe, but maybe not. If you have your middle name on your license and that’s the ID you want to use, you have to put your middle name on the ticket. Just have a middle initial on your license? Then that’s what you should put on there. Are you like many airline executives who use their first initial and then middle name (W Douglas Parker and J Scott Kirby come to mind)? Book it that way.

Don’t worry if things aren’t exactly right in the beginning. The TSA says:

For the near future, small differences between ID and reservation information, such as the use of a middle initial instead of a full middle name or no middle name/initial at all, should not cause a problem for the passenger.

Note the first four words of that quote. This leniency will apparently be temporary, so you might as well start booking it this way now to avoid whatever might be in store. Since they don’t give an end date for the more relaxed restrictions, you should just assume that it could end at any time. And remember, if you have your name listed differently on your license and your passport, you’ll need to remember which piece of ID you’ll be using for that particular trip.

What if your airline doesn’t have a box for middle name? Eh, I’d just throw it in with the first name. What if your name is too long to fit? (Yes, I’m talking to you, Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff.) I’d just squeeze as much in there as you can and hope for the best.

You’ve got a few months to get used to this before the next change. On August 15, you’ll have to provide your birth date and gender as well if you’re on a domestic airline. (Presumably, privacy rules in other countries have foiled their plans to roll this out everywhere?)

If you’re transgender, you’re probably dreading that day. But that’s probably a topic for another post.

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31 comments on “TSA Needs Your Exact Name When You Fly Now

  1. Intriguing … My driver’s license lists just my middle initial while my passport lists my full middle name. So now I have to book tickets under different names depending on what source of ID I expect to use … which typically is driver’s license for domestic and passport for international.

    But what about domestic connection of an international flight? (Yeah, I’m just being funny but this does sound like another over-the-top, not properly thought through TSA regulation.)

  2. It’d be nice if airline frequent-flier databases included this info — I don’t think many of them have fields for middle names. My Delta SkyMiles account persists on adding my middle initial to the end of my first name. (and it took about six attempts to get them to stop referring to my girlfriend as “Mr.”)

    But the big joke is that this change doesn’t actually make us any safer, which is par for the course with the TSA. They still have the massive security hole surrounding ID checking, where they fail to make sure that the boarding pass matching your ID is the boarding pass you use to get on the plane.

  3. Phil –

    I’m hoping that an exact name match is not truly required. I have the same situation as you, middle initial in one, full middle name in the other.

    By the time I finish producing driver’s license, passport, credit card and any other embossed bit of junk with my name on it if they’re not convinced I am who I truly am then this Orwellian transition is truly a dysfunctional disservice to the public.

  4. What the TSA says is that this is supposed to help them better match people to the watch list. That’s why they’re doing the whole age and gender thing – so they don’t confuse boy Pat Johnson with girl Pat Johnson. In other words, they shift the burden to travelers to help them do a better job of matching. So theoretically, the point of the matching is for what happens before you even get to the airport. Why they would even bother getting so strict once you’re at the airport is beyond me.

  5. The good news for me is that my name on my drivers’ license and passport are the same. The bad news is that it’s my first, middle and last names on both. Crap!

  6. Heh, if there was sanity if you put your name on your ticket as “John Qunicy Public” but your license said “John Q. Public” there shouldn’t be an issue.. This being the TSA I’m not placing any bets.

  7. Can the US airlines handle accented letters or the Scandinavian Æ and Œ? I can predict a lot of trouble in the holiday season otherwise.

  8. but that security hole means that even if you are on the watch list — comprised of people deemed too dangerous to be allowed to fly, but not dangerous enough to arrest — you can STILL get on a plane. Buy the ticket in whatever fake name you want, then alter the print-out boarding pass to show your real name, the one you have ID for. Show that pass at security (where TSA doesn’t check the ID and boarding pass against the reservations system or the watch list), then ditch that boarding pass and board the plane with your boarding pass made out to your fake name.

    And besides — you’re completely allowed (though the TSA doesn’t like to admit it) to fly without ID, as long you submit to extra screening.

  9. I’ll give TSA a little slack on this. The issue has been around forever. If you go by a name where you have a first name, but simply use the intital, you know you have names written a hundred different ways.

    Honestly, I asked my mother why she decided to call me something different from my birth certificate name, but she couldn’t really explain it. MOM!!!

    First was school which required it be written one way. That was all before the computer, so you can’t blame it on that. Then you got a phone and now you’ve established your name some way else. Along came military service and, no exceptions, you must use your full name. College enrollment, however you wanted, so now to your military and college friends, you typically are two different people. Then, the passport…full name. Driver’s license…any way you want it. Credit cards…depends on the size of field in the application. And then, the frequent flier accounts…not matching the passport name or at least a full first name…no good. Sadly, if I ever die in a plane crash, it will be quite some time until many of my relatives figure out that was me onboard because of the standard airline ticket name is not the way they know me.

    Of course, there’s the question of why an airline needs my name on a ticket anyway. TSA, OK, so they know who’s flying, but the airline? Oh yeh, so I won’t sell the ticket and mess up their whole stupid business model. But, that’s a whole other story!!

  10. qoute: But what about domestic connection of an international flight? (Yeah, I’m just being funny but this does sound like another over-the-top, not properly thought through TSA regulation.) /quote

    You can use your passport for all legs of the trip, including domestic. When I travel int’l my passport is my primary ID. It trumps a DL, plus the airline scans it anyway at the initial of departure.

  11. I once belonged to a swimming pool that required my wife and me to be listed under the same last name in order to get a family membership (our actual last names are different). Good thing TSA doesn’t accept swimming pool membership cards for travel.

  12. A million years ago when I worked for an airline we always asked for a persons named exactly as it appeared on their passport for international bookings. His was so that no one traveling somewhere in the world wouldn’t have a problem with a ticket that said ‘Dick Smith’ and a passport that said ‘Richard Smith’. You wouldn’t want to be tossed in a Turkish prison because some local official thought you were trying to travel on a fake or stolen ticket since the names didn’t match.

    If people always used their real name it wouldn’t be an issue now. This does remind me of the time a friend of mine was in the hospital after having an emergency operation and his mother called the hospital looking for him and was told they had no one by his name there. Well his mother gave the name they’ve called him since birth and forgot that’s not the same name on his legal documents like a work insurance card that is the medical version of a passport in their eyes……lol

    It’s almost hard to believe there was a time you didn’t have to show any I.D. to travel domestic and their was no security check points.

  13. This has actually been an issue for me for a few years now. After I got married, both my wife and I double-barrelled our surnames, and we have this in our passports. However, United reservation systems at the time could not cope with a hyphen, so we always booked by rolling our surnames together (making a ridiculously long single word!). Obvisouly, this doesn’t quite match my passport, which has the hyphenated double barrelled name. When I asked about making this alteration to my mileage plus account, I was informed that I would lose all status I held at the time and would have to earn again. Sweet. Looks like I will soon have no option.

  14. If my local grocery store can obtain my full legal name, birth date and home address simply be scanning the bar code on the back of my driver’s license, why can’t the TSA? It certainly seems to me like it would be far easier to give the TSA ID checker’s be armed with bar code readers and passport scanners than to require massive investment on the part of airlines to change their computer systems and alter passenger behavior. And while there was certainly some valid arguments against any federally mandated state ID/Driver’s License standards, I don’t think it would be an onerous mandate that you put your full legal name on your Driver’s License.

  15. MathFox – I’m sure the problem is going to be airline compliance. The tech aspect of it will create problems for sure.

    Vidiot – The TSA recently tightened up that rule about flying without ID. Now, you’re supposed to have ID and they will only make exceptions if you have a good excuse. Of course, then you do need to go through extra screening.

    Nick B – It’s because they want to run it long before they see your ID. When you make your reservation, they want to be able to match you up with the watch list, and if your name is exactly as it appears on your license, it’s easier for them.

  16. Ah, Secure Flight and the TSA’s grandiose plans to track your travel movements. Why Obama get that piece of junk scrapped?

    I am starting to drive on any trip west of Kansas now.

  17. Can anyone explain what checking the name actually buys the TSA? Just because I travel under a given name I’m not more or less dangerous than someone else.

    Thankfully in Germany no one cares for ID checks for domestic/Schengen flights at all. Still wondering how much fun this whole nonsense will be when I travel to the US. I use one of my three firstnames for all my normal identification. While the passport and national ID card have all three firstname my drivers license has just one. And in Germany a drivers license is really just a license to driver a car an not a an ID card under a different name.

    I think I will just continue checkin in under a single first name and if they complain show them my drivers license.

  18. Chris – They check the name to try and match it up against the watch list to see if you’re a scary person or not. Whether this is effective or not is a whole different story.

    Next time you travel to the US, let us know how it goes.

  19. Cranky, it is not “just” airline compliance… all booking systems have to be adapted. A Swede buying a ticket on a Greek Internet site should be able to get his å and ø in. Should people from countries with non-latin alphabets be allowed to enter the natural spelling of their name or should they use the latinized version? Can the TSA see the difference between ??? and ??? or do both look Chinese to them?

  20. FYI, I entered two Chinese names in the previous comment, but they were replaced by ??? each.
    And WordPress gave an error message… underscoring that a proper implementation is not trivial.

  21. The Internatonal Air Transport Association (IATA) is the organization where all of the airlines agree to how to store and transmit data like names. IATA is the place where the airlines originally agreed BETWEEN THEMSELVES that you can’t use å and ø. That’s because in the old days they were using teletype machines around the world that only support minimal character sets. And then, most of the world’s Customs/Immigration agencies followed suite. So, don’t blame TSA on that! (TSA is not Custome/Immigration.)

    You might be able to use them if you are flying domestically on an airline like SAS and book directy with SAS (so there is no transmission between a travel agency and the airline that has to comply with IATA specs).

  22. My last name is legally two words.
    It is spelled that way on my passport.
    I buy my tickets with my name spelled correctly.

    BUT the airlines then concatenate the name into a single word. Now my name doesn’t match my passport. I’ve only been questioned on this when leaving The Netherlands. I wonder if this will have an effect? I can always show my military I.D. when traveling stateside, since they couldn’t figure out two words either…

  23. Peter – I really hope that something as simple as having two words smushed into one wouldn’t cause problems. Of course, there’s no better way to find out than to test it.

  24. Everyone here seems to be assuming that “we the people” control how our names appear on “official” documents like drivers licenses. In New York if your first or middle name is too many characters they automatically shorten it to the initial(s). So now I have a license with my first and middle initial and last name and a passport with my full name… Moral of the story… 50 state motor vehicles depts cannot be coordinated.

    1. I thought I was the only one with this problem of first and middle name initials on my driver’s license. It looks horrible and fake, not to mention the many issues I encounter when going out, showing identification for picking up things like packages, or simply using it in a hotel. My name is not C legally and anyone could be me with just initials. Is there any way to change this?

  25. Stupid is as stupid does, typical goverment morons.
    Your first and last name should be all you need.
    Your gender and age is B.S., but I can live with that.
    I have a long first and middle name, and on top of that I have a second middle name. It depands on the D.M.V.s system at the time, on how my name shows up on my license. I do not use my middle names any more for any thing unles I have to.
    I guess the only way around this STUPID rule is to go to court and drop my middle names so that my first and last name is my legal name
    Of course then I would be questioned why I do not have a middle name.
    Gee I thought Bush was out of office.
    P.S. watch out for those women who carry breast milk on board,
    and Al Gore.

  26. If we weren’t so picky about it, there would be a unique identifying NUMBER for each individual to use on documents. (Think SSN). But somehow people started thinking of these as secret PIN numbers rather than a database key (unique record locator).

  27. I read about this in the May 30 LATimes. My wife and I are going to Denmark in June. I made reservations last year. I checked our tickets and passports. Mine is OK – my wife’s is not. Her passport has her middle name in the middle, her ticket has her maiden name in the middle. Her CDL has her maiden name in the middle. Called United to have her middle name changed on the ticket to match her passport. After checking with someone, the idiot woman says “she will not be able to take the flight” WTF??? The ticket must agree with her passport, not her CDL. Can’t change the name, have to cancel and reissue if available. We’re on a FF ticket – not likely!!

    After a moment of panic, I went online and found this and other sites assuring me that 1) it appears to be for tickets issued AFTER May 15 and 2) the TSA will be “flexible” for a short time until people get the message. Obviously, the United agent hadn’t gotten the TSA message (nor had whoever she talked to).

    But don’t count on the public getting the word – the TSA is still confiscating large knives and other prohibited objects from travelers who have had almost 9 years to hear about what you can’t bring on board.

    1. Don V…what other websites did you find this info on. I have middle name on passport but not my travel documents…planes,cruise,etc.

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