The curious case of the KLM passenger with two names
I recently booked return tickets to the US, flying with KLM. I'm a member of their frequent flyer programme, so I entered my Flying Blue details before confirming my flight, to collect points for the booking.
When I was prompted to enter passenger information, the website automatically populated the data fields with my name, address and other information - all taken from my Flying Blue account. This information is also a requirement of APIS (Advance Passenger Information System), a security measure put in place by the US Department of Homeland Security.
I paid for my flights and confirmed the booking, but when the reservation was sent to my email, the passenger name was "Smith Paul", not "Paul Smith" - I'd entered my first name as my surname, and vice-versa. Dick.
Except I hadn't.
My name had been entered for me by my Flying Blue frequent flyer account - I'd made the error when I first created the account last year. No big deal, I thought - I called KLM and rectified the matter.
Then I remembered I flew to the US with KLM in March this year. Out of mild curiosity, I checked the eTicket from March, and the name I flew under:
I'd successfully taken a return flight the US under the wrong name - I didn't notice the error at the time, and so didn't have my eTicket corrected. So here's how that trip played out:
• I took four flights in total (from the UK to Schiphol and then on to the US, and similar for the return flight), and from memory my various tickets and boarding passes were checked by airport and airline staff on at least eight separate occasions - nobody spotted that my my first name and surname were incorrect.
• the name on the boarding passes didn't match the name in my passport or the information held by the ESTA programme, another initiative of the US Department of Homeland Security which I'd submitted in January 2009
• this incorrect information was presumably submitted to APIS by the airline, so this wouldn't have matched ESTA's records either; these two programmes are both operated by the US Department of Homeland Security to order to spot anomalies
Now I can at understand why staff wouldn't pick up on the mistake - those at the gates are checking hundreds of boarding passes; those at security see thousands in one day.
But why didn't the hardware spot that the surname on my boarding pass and on APIS didn't match the surname on my passport, or that my boarding passes didn't match my ESTA entry? A security system wouldn't overlook the fact that the two names don't match. The data in one field didn't match the data in the corresponding field - end of story. Computers don't get hassled or distracted, and they don't glaze over after checking boarding passes all day long.
Did the airline submit my information to APIS? Is APIS not networked to ESTA, or the system that holds passport information? It'd be interesting to know whether there's an obvious explanation, or whether all the bureaucracy is as ineffective as travellers often believe it to be.