Thai Airways International has apologized after a family was charged extra for their tickets because of their extremely long names. The issue arose after a passenger shortened the names of his wife and child when the online booking system rejected them for using too many characters.
According to the Bangkok Post, the unsatisfied customer posted his complaint in an online forum, explaining that the system would not allow him to proceed with the purchase when the names were entered in full. After shortening the names, he was able to complete his transaction, but ran into further trouble when attempting to check in at the airport.
The family, whose names have not been revealed, was told that they could not board as the names on the tickets and their passports did not match. The passenger argued that his membership of the airline’s Royal Orchid Plus loyalty programme should be sufficient to identify him, but was told by staff that this was not permitted under International Civil Aviation laws.
The passenger was given a choice: either pay the fee to change the names on the tickets, buy new tickets at full price, or abandon their travel plans. With few options left, the man agreed to pay the 3,000 baht ($94) fee to change the names, and then filed a complaint with customer service.
Two days after the man shared his story online, Thai Airways International took to Facebook to share their side of the story. They explained that the online systems allows a maximum of 50 characters for a person’s full name, and that people with longer names should book over the phone so staff can record the name in full. The airline accepted that this was not clearly indicated on their website, and pledged to both refund the passenger, and update their system to give clearer instructions.
Issues like this arise because of a discrepancy between the strict security expectations of airlines, and the broad cultural variance inherent in an industry such as international travel. For security reasons, the programmers building these online booking systems are expected to weed out any fake names, and so impose a number of rules about what a name should look like. The problem is that since different cultures have different naming norms, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to validating names online. In most of Asia for example, the family name comes before the “first name”. In certain African cultures, like the Luo peoples, special characters like apostrophes can be used in names. And in Thailand, some people have more than 50 characters in their names.
Thai Airways International is not removing its 50 character limit, just adding extra instructions on how to book over the phone if your name doesn’t fit. Maybe instead of trying to understand the logic behind every single name in the world, it would be easier to just let people type what they want, and see if it matches their passport when they show up.