What's in a name?

I travel a lot - pretty much every week, domestically and internationally. For the most part, things go reasonably smoothly. That changed recently.

My company uses Egencia, the corporate arm of Expedia, for travel arrangements. Last fall, Egencia started requesting "Secure Flight Info" to comply with TSA regulations. Stuff like middle name, passport number, etc. I entered the data, and was subsequently surprised/dismayed to find everything I booked through Egencia coming up with my name being "Firstmiddle Last" rather than "First Middle Last". Airlines in particular tend to find this indigestible.

And data tends to propagate, for better or worse. I had my passport pulled transiting through Dubai so that they could "manually update my passport information." At that point, my official name as far as UAE was concerned was "Firstmiddle Last".

Having had enough, I found a route to make Egencia aware of their blunder (a nice word for a company that, supposedly, is run by experts in the travel industry). Miraculously, the blunder appears to have been corrected. All is well...

Not so fast.

Transiting through Dubai again, my passport was pulled, again, for "security reasons". My corrected (but incorrect) information in their system did not match the now-correct information on my travel documents (which now matched the information in my actual passport). Sigh.

And I have found that name error installed into my accounts at several travel sites. Like Virgin America, for example, where I found my name in my account had been helpfully changed to "Firstmiddle Last". I found I was able to correct that info on their site. Cool.

Big mistake.

This week, on a short hop to the bay area on Virgin, I found myself staring at a page on their site that said "Online Check In is Available" and, less than an inch away, "we are unable to allow you to check in online." A call to their customer service number connected me with someone who was so focused on following their script that, after 15 argumentative minutes, they were telling me there was no solution even though they had never even asked me for a confirmation number, name or flight. A second call to customer service connected me with the same person (figure the odds there). A third call finally got me to someone who was actually interested in finding out what was wrong. Except that they weren't allowed to tell me because it had to do with "security issues." First it was "sir, our site cannot check you in. That's all I can tell you." Finally, after a game of 20 questions, it appears it's not the site, it's my reservation. The (incorrect) name did not match the (correct) account record. Checking in at the Virgin counter, I was advised that I should go to the TSA site and follow their process for a scary thing called "redress". Having done that, I'm told they will review my documents within 30 days. I wait with anticipation.

Now, I've personally experienced the capriciousness of TSA, watching some agents inflict their personal opinions on passengers even when those opinions contradict TSA policy: I've witnessed surprisingly long lectures about packing, and been told my TSA-approved laptop case was "bad to use" because it "endangered the laptop while on the scanner belt." (Tom Binh take note).  But people do that: have opinions. When a travel company like Egencia adds features or changes account behavior around TSA information, I expect them to do it correctly the first time. So that I don't have to waste my time.