TSA and American Discriminate Against the French

British Airways, Government Regulation, Safety/Security

Last week, we had our internal Crankyfest gathering for Cranky Concierge. We do this every year as a way for the team to get together, work through issues, and talk strategy for the future. Thanks to some shenanigans, a lack of French language knowledge by the TSA, and an unhelpful American agent, one of our employees almost never made it through security after the event. There is definitely an important lesson to learn here. Don’t mess with funny titles for travelers.

We usually do our gathering in June or July, and this year we chose Palm Springs. Palm Springs in the summer? Well, yeah. It’s hot, but it’s also cheap. And it makes it easier for us to put together a great outing without breaking the bank. In fact, we were able to fly everyone out using miles, which was tremendously helpful.

For one of our guys, Kevin, we found availability using British Airways miles to fly him back from Ontario to Dallas/Ft Worth on American at the end of the trip. Ontario is only an hour away from Palm Springs and it was on the way back toward home in Long Beach anyway so this worked well. But the person who booked it decided to have a little fun with Kevin in a way that can only be done when booking British Airways.

See, when you book a flight using British Airways points, they give you an incredible range of titles you can use. I’m talking about everything from Rear Admiral to Princess. There are dozens and dozens of choices. So, the person who booked Kevin decided he was feeling French.

BA Booking Titles

With that, Monsieur Kevin was booked on an American flight. Now, you wouldn’t expect anyone to care about titles. It’s not like an airline is going to verify if you’re a Princess or not, right? And “monsieur” just means “mister” in French so it really shouldn’t be a problem. Leave it to TSA to find a way….

Kevin got to the airport and picked up a boarding pass at a kiosk. The title is printed as part of the name on the ticket, so Monsieur was clearly visible. You can see the boarding pass on top of the photo below.

Monsieur Boarding Passes

Of course, Kevin didn’t think twice about this. He walked through the empty TSA checkpoint and the ID checker balked. Kevin was told that his name on his ID didn’t match the name on his ticket, and he wouldn’t be allowed into the secure area. Seriously.

Now if it had said ROBERTS/KEVIN MR, then the TSA clearly would have let him right through. So Kevin explained to the agent that this was the exact same thing in French. It didn’t matter. The agent, while actually very friendly and sympathetic, refused to let him through. The agent said that the airlines had been unhappy that some people with name mismatches had been getting through, so they decided to be more strict on the policy. He said that if American was fine with it, then it would be ok, but first, they had to walk over to American to ask.

You would hope that the American agent would have fixed this quickly, but no. This agent apparently didn’t feel like being helpful at all and barked at Kevin that he’d have to call reservations and pay a $200 change fee to get the ticket reissued. (Yes, that’s right. The TICKET counter couldn’t help with ticketing.) Sacré bleu!

The agent didn’t even bother to look at the record, but once Kevin explained that it was a BA ticket and this couldn’t be done directly with American, then things started to move. The agent went into the back with a supervisor to review the situation. The agents came back with a reprinted boarding pass on the stock they use at the ticket counter (the bottom half of the photo above) that had absolutely nothing different in terms of the name field. That was good enough for TSA, so Kevin went right on through and boarded his flight.

This isn’t the first time we’ve messed with silly titles — Kevin passed through DFW without trouble as a Commandant once — but it’ll probably be the last. It might be perfectly legitimate to do it (at least with monsieur), but it’s not worth the hassle if you run into an uneducated agent who won’t find it amusing. (That being said, the rest of us in the company found this all hilarious….)

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48 comments on “TSA and American Discriminate Against the French

  1. Same thing happened to me – only with the “real” name and name tag. We as Germans booked our flights in Germany – and here “MR” equals “HERR” and “MRS” “FRAU”. What was odd was the fact that these titles were added right to the name, not with a space in between. So my boarding pass read “HUTTER/JONASHERR” which was too much for the poor TSA guy in San Diego. Took us a while too (and some more German-passers-by at the airport…).

    1. That splicing together of names and titles is routine. My boarding passes normally say “LAST/FIRSTMIDDLEDR” or “LAST/FIRSTMIDDLEMR” depending on how it’s booked, especially when the operating carrier is different than the ticketing carrier. Never a second glance (and rarely an issue with TSA Precheck) in the US or anywhere else in the world. But I have an Anglo name with Anglo titles.

      Since I have a random extra title, I should book as LAST/FIRSTMIDDLEHERRDOKTOR some time to see how the TSA reacts. :) But I guess not, based on your experience and the example Cranky describes. Frustrating and unacceptable.

      1. My mother would have a field day with this. She’s an academic with a PhD. I’d like to see how the TSA handled a boarding pass with


  2. The answer is it just depends.

    I am American, and virtually always fly the same airline. My info is all in their system. My name ALWAYS prints with NEILSMR at the end – my first name, my middle initial, and uh, MR. Which is – of course – not what my ID says. Sometimes they look, sometimes they ask, sometimes they don’t.

    I’m sure the French thing didn’t help, but I don’t think it’s the main reason.

  3. You piqued my interest so I looked at my e-boarding pass from earlier this week. No title at all but it did have part of my middle name, Matth instead of Matthew. Guessing it’s that way on a printed ticket too.

    Did notice that it doesn’t look like Kevin has TSA Pre-check. Think that would make a difference? TSA has never told me more than “have a nice trip” when checking my ID.

  4. I think the reason that BA offer Monsieur is that it is a religious title. So it’s probably not to offer French speaking travelers the option to use their native version of Mister. Does not mean the TSA had to be so difficult about it.

    1. Nope, “monsieur” is just Mr. in French, just like “madame” is Mrs. and “mademoiselle” is Miss in the list above. United offers me those same options when I book a ticket on their website (along with Dr,). Nothing religious about it.

  5. The name on his ID did match the name on his ticket. The TSA A**hole didn’t say Kevin’s title didn’t match, he said his name didn’t match, which clearly it did. Words have mean to quote another Supreme A**hole, a one Monsieur Scalia.

    Title is tile. Name is name. It’s good enough for your US passport where only Sur and Given names are printed, no titles.

    1. At least “Monsieur Scalia” can formulate a proper sentence.


      P.S. I know you are just jealous of his intellect.

      1. I agree completely!

        You Americans need more smart ones like Herr Scalia – or should I say Signore Scalia.


      1. Probably largely cultural norms. Titles don’t tend to be very important in the US, but they are much more important in most of the rest of the world, in my experience.

        1. It’s very common in many places. For example, older Germans can be very insistent. I heard a German passenger lose it on BA once between LHR and FRA when the flight attendant addressed him as “Sir” instead of “Herr Doktor”.

      2. You’d be amazed at the doors that are opened when you select Count or Duke titles on your BA boarding pass! Upgrades Centurion Class (way better than First class!) literally fall out of the sky, special VIP Super Class lounges (only accessible by helicopter flight to nearby islands) open up. Special meals include entrees with delicacies such as Bengal Tiger chops, Delta Smelt infused French golden goose Foie gras or Elephant Trunk soup!

        Why are you blogging about this? You’re ruining another one of our long used upgrade tricks! Freaking bloggers… ;-D

    1. The only title that even made sense is on United tickets when my son flies with me: Master.

      At least that shows that the ticket is for a minor child. Not sure what the feminine equivalent would be.

      1. “Miss” is the equivalent of “Master” for a female child and male child, respectively.

        When flying EVA Premium Laurel, they were very careful to call me “Mrs. . It was stiff and formal to my thinking, but the flight attendants were kind and polite so it wasn’t too weird after the first time they did it.

      2. This reminds me of a lecture in my third grade classroom. The teacher was going through many of the titles, Mr, Mrs, Miss, Master. We somehow went into a long discussion of Master and one of my classmates who wasn’t paying attention said Teacher “…what do you call a young lady?” The teacher in exasperation said “Slave!” Sometimes teachers can lose it.

  6. Hmmmm, being an Ambassador volunteer at DFW, probably would not be a good idea to indicate my name as “Ambassador Ray ____”, or would it (Grin)?

  7. You can imagine how much fun I have with the US domestic agents when they are checking my visa to return to work in Saudi Arabia. It is currently valid until 10/02/1437 (Hijri date – the equivalent is 11/02/2015).

    It actually has 6 dates printed on it, and I have to explain to them what each date means, which sort of renders the “document check” as rather useless. It is an e-visa, printed from the Saudi government website, so I guess I could just make and print my own anyway.

  8. Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but I assume Kevin is a US citizen, and was traveling with identification issued by a US state or territory and a boarding pass issued in the US. (As shown above, the first boarding pass looks to me like it was issued by one of American’s check-in kiosks.) How many times in a year would a TSA agent at an airport like Ontario with no regular flights to European destinations be expected to see a boarding pass with “Monsieur” on it presented by a US citizen? While any reasonably educated person anywhere in the world would probably never have a second thought, even well-educated Americans tend not to have studied a foreign language, and might think Kevin is trying to get away with something. I’d like to think that TSA agents are given some minimal level of language instruction, but I doubt it. I can also guess that the agent’s training demands that any boarding pass with an irregularity of any kind has to be rejected. I’m not condoning the error, but I think I understand how it could happen. I rack this one up to the American educational system and not to any pattern of prejudice on the part of TSA or anyone else.

  9. Guess it’s to simple a thought to have a special box on the ticket/boarding pass for TITLE and another for NAME.

    1. You would think that if you enter a title in it’s own field that it should populate on the ticket in it’s own field.

      When I travel, I do not enter a title, but that doesn’t mean I wont be randomly assigned one. I’ve had several instances in the past when I print out my boarding pass, either on the computer or at the airport kiosk, I’ve suddenly become a “Dr”. Probably the easiest way to become a doctor….

    2. This is probably one of those old limitations that no one bothered fixing.

      IMHO the TSA should go to the airlines and tell them they want the Title, First Name, Middle Name, Last Name, and suffix (Jr. Sr. III. etc) printed on the boarding passes in a specific order with spaces between them. Then the airlines would get this together. Until that time I’m not quite sure they care.

      1. Oh the other thing, have a defined number of characters of each name that must be printed and also a defined procedure what is supposed to happen when the person’s name is too long. (Perhaps an ellipse or another character to signify the mismatch.)

        While I’m at it, the TSA should secure the name loophole. Since you can print your boarding pass at home, this also means you can edit your boarding pass at home. Which means you can buy a ticket on a stolen credit card matching the name of the credit card. Then edit the boarding pass to show the name on your ID, and use that to get by the TSA.

        1. I think that the only thing that actually matters on print at home boarding passes is the bar code, which is much harder to modify than the printed text (since you’d have to forge both the content and the checksum). They’re comparing the name on their screen after scanning the boarding pass to the name on the ID.

          1. The bar code isn’t that hard to change either. The one printed on paper is a PDF417 barcode. The mobile boarding passes are Aztec code, Datamatrix and QR code barcodes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar-coded_boarding_pass

            The information encoded in the bar code is the standard is pretty easily available: http://shaun.net/posts/2011/05/whats-contained-in-a-boarding-pass-barcode

            And this issue has been known for a while: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-security/unencrypted-bar-codes-on-airline-boarding-passes-pose-threat/ <http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-security/unencrypted-bar-codes-on-airline-boarding-passes-pose-threat/>

            Also, last time I was through security not every ID check point had a bar code reader, although you couldn’t depend on that.

  10. Is “I identify as French” an excuse? Wait, no, identifying as something you’re not would be idiotic.

  11. Those of you whose parents decided somehow that while you are going to be born with a first, middle, and last name and then, for reasons they could never quite remember/explain, decided to have you known only by an initial, middle name (which you use as your primary name), etc., know life’s difficulties with “what is your real name?” (This started long before the computer, the internet, or TSA.)

    Mid-’60s, the military: “Mr., You will use your whole name Now and forever more, or at least until you die, and WE say you’re dead!,.” So, if someone yells out my whole first name someplace, I immediately know this must be somebody I knew from my military life.

    Then, 1981, UA and MileagePlus. It took, I swear, 22 iterations of my name to get it straight in their computers.

    Passports, credit cards, TSA, you name it. I have to conform to whatever they want. (I just wish airlines could reciprocate and put the “operating” carrier’s code in the flight number, but I know that just will not fly!

    Women? What you must go through with your last name, before, during, and after!

  12. My friends make fun of my for insisting on changing my drivers license the last time I needed to get it renewed so that it showed my full middle name (so that it matched my Passport and all of my TSA pre-check and global entry docs which have the full middle name), but I did it because I wanted ALL of my IDs to have the exact same name so that I didn’t have to bring my passport on domestic flights.

    I knew that 99/100 times I’d have no problem with the “benign” name mismatch, but that there’s always the possibility of that one agent who is either an idiot or on a power trip (or both), so until I got my license “fixed”, I was dutifully dragging my passport along just in case.

    Thankfully, the DMV folks were actually very helpful even though I technically didn’t have enough “points of ID” with my full middle name (needed 6, passport only counted for 4 and my global entry ID doesn’t count for anything; my SS card doesn’t have ANY middle name (!) and I didn’t think to change all of my utility bills or dig my birth certificate out of my parents’ files hundreds of miles away) – when I explained the situation, a supervisor waived the requirement and let me make the change (imagine – the DMV as the place to find helpful, non-power trippy government employees!).

    (Also, no one could figure out how to fill out the application form, because it wasn’t a “name change” – I didn’t change my name. I just wanted my existing name to appear different. They were very patient with me.)

    1. I did exactly the same thing after the major hassles I went through when I tried to file online for Social Security benefits. My passport, which matches my birth certificate, already had my middle name, but my driver’s license only had my middle initial. My parents, in their infinite wisdom, had my SS card issued with a shortened form of my first name and my middle initial. WRONG! It took several long trips and long waits to get SS straightened out, since in this situation you have to have a new card issued first and THEN file for your benefits. It doesn’t help that if you’ve moved to a different region since your original card was issued, everything about your account is handled through the office that issued your SS number and card originally. Showing my birth certificate along with my passport was the key to getting things changed (relatively) quickly.

      Moral of the story: get your names matched up on all your IDs now, and you’ll save yourself grief later.

    2. Actually, the scenario is a name change, since I had to do the same after changing my legal name to remove a space.

      +1 on changing the name on your Social Security card to match everything else. Birth certificate and/or other legal name change orders (marriage certificate, citizenship naturalization, etc.) is essential.

      1. Right, but the NYS DMV forms instruct you to provide documentation that you’ve legally “changed your name” (court papers, marriage certificate, etc.) to submit the form requesting a “name change” on your drivers’ license.

        I didn’t legally change my name and hence had no such documentation – I just wanted the name I’ve had since birth to appear differently.

  13. It isn’t only MR and DR that US airlines mush into the name fields. My spouse is a Third; his legal name ends in III. His IDs carry Firstname Middlename Lastname III. Delta tickets inevitably render this as FirstNameMiii. It’s a mess.

    1. ugh, do I know that problem. except i’m a fourth which makes for lastnameiv.

      freaking delta won’t change my name on the account which would solve this problem just by lopping off the suffix but they want proof of a name change. huh? uh, i’m not actually changing the name, i’m just removing a suffix from the name because (a) your computers are too stupid to put a space between my surname and the suffix and (b) the suffix is not part of my legal name anyway so there is no change involved anyway. dumb dumb DUMB!

      even their own gate agents have occasionally called me mr. lastnameiv!

      fortunately precheck makes this simpler but i have had to talk my way through TSA before (my id does not have the suffix either which is why i want to delta to remove it in the first place)

  14. > The agent said that the airlines had been unhappy that some people with
    > name mismatches had been getting through, so they decided to be more strict on the policy.

    So the TSA is now working for the airlines? Interesting.

    I’d file a complaint about this nonsense. Or write my senator or congress critter.

  15. Wild, neat shit about the u changeable Cranky – NEXT: what if he recently changed his name and on his passport to Mo(uh hammed) – no problem….

  16. Wait, wait wait..

    Two things:
    1. American Airlines hasn’t changed its logo on its ticket stock? What gives? I can’t imagine they had more than a year’s worth on hand when they changed their logo, so it should be changed by now.
    2. This is a smidge of an IT issue, perhaps there could be a cranky across the aisle with Maya Leibman? Maybe we could even get her to record one of those snappy videos?!

  17. Airlines are no longer teaching ticketing to new agents. They are teaching the pretty front-end GUIs and not native. They would rather have us sit on hold while waiting for someone else to fix it.

  18. I was traveling with, and bought an international ticket for, a friend. He was mayor of his city, so I listed him as (name changed for anonymity) Hon. Eric Wang. This showed up on the ticket as WANG/ERICHON, and both UA and TSA wanted to see ID showing him as Eric Hon Wang. It took a lot of arguing and explanation, since they decided he was too young to be an Honorable, and so Hon must be a Chinese name, and it didn’t match his ID.

  19. My first name is Menashe. The term “He” must be a title in some language, because on a few airlines (Singapore and El Al, I’m looking at you), when I print out my online boarding pass, some clever bit of software decides to print my name out as “Lastname, He Menas”.

    Never been an issue. I imagine that when it scans the bar code, it shows up correctly in any event.

  20. This has all been interesting to read. Since people had names and titles way before airplanes you would think that when airline computers came along the name/title issue would have been worked out on day one of programming and not be an issue today. Guess not!

  21. I wonder what would have happened if Kevin claimed that the TSA was being racially prejudice. If the tile “Mr” was acceptable as a name difference but not “Monsieur”, then it could easily be classified as a racially prejudice issue. Sadly, there are some in the USA who do have a negative prejudice view of the French.

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