British Airways and Common Names

Dear British Airways (Executive Club)

We seem to have a big problem about a simple thing: my name.

I go on holiday not to think about this stuff, but it’s been bugging me. I’ll be a good customer and not only point out the problem but also offer a solution. Here is my story.

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My Story

Towards the end of August I book a return flight for my daughter and I from Cape Town to London with British Airways, premium economy, because it was a last minute thing. We get upgraded to Club World (~business class). I think this is the best flight I’ve ever been on.

I need to get to Boston for business so I book a flight with American Airlines.. which sucked. I’ll never do that again. So I’m sitting at Harvard (VRM+CRM) thinking let’s just book all the rest of my flights with BA. So I join the BA Executive Club frequent flyer program. It asks for a name and it seems to only allow 4 digits for a password. No problem. Not very secure. Maybe they think I’m going to try and remember it. I get (yet another) identifier as a username.. a string of digits.

Next, I book 3 flights.. Boston – London, London – Athens, Athens – London. I figure it’s kinda cool how the website used my frequent flyer profile to fill in all the usual personal information for booking a flight. Only snag is, it used my Common Name and not my Formal Name.

At this point I figure I might as well claim the miles from the recent Cape Town – London trip. I enter the ticket number. Nope, it’s not happy because the name in my passport (as used on this flight) and the name I use to sign up for online services is not the same. I get a message back saying “We will notify you if your claim is unsuccessful by email within 7 working days.”

Now my real problems start. I want to fly from Athens to London and the people at the airport are very confused about my Common Name on the ticket and my Formal Name on my passport. Blah, blah, usual lame process, dumb questions, supervisors, confused expressions.. I’m sure you’ve all had similar experiences.

I’m thinking, all I need to do is change my name in the BA website to prevent this in future. Nope. Can’t edit that field using their website, sorry.

I get back to London and I get a nice automated email from BA saying that they can’t match the ticket number with the name on the ticket. YES. FFS! We knew that from the very start. Now, seems they don’t allow me to respond to their email. Awesome.

The email says I should check the details and re-submit my claim or contact their service centre. I SURE AS HELL am not going to even try and phone a call centre to sort this out. I’ll rather give up and fly something else.

I bitch on Twitter, thinking.. let’s give this Social CRM thing a try. BA UK and BA US start following me on Twitter. Nothing more happens.

The Wookie Story

Next, a story about a guy named Wookie. There once was a Debian developer who changed his name to “Wookie”, formally. Yup, that’s a valid name. Nope, you don’t need a surname. It seems if you want to be a BA customer a Surname is required. Weird that governments don’t seem to require surnames but they do.

Now, I’m not suggesting we all drop our surnames. I’m saying.. who are you to tell me what my friends can call me? If I want to be Han Solo that should be cool. I get to choose my Common Name. As long as there is some Formal Name which matches the name in my passport I should be able to fly without confusing anybody right?

Esmeralda: “What is your name?”
Butch: “Butch.”
Esmeralda: “What does it mean?”
Butch: “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”
— Pulp Fiction

So kids, what did we learn?

  • Never fly with American Airlines.
  • We don’t want more identifiers. We have too many data silos already. In fact I don’t want to worry about updating my data in one more system.
  • You can’t assume my Common Name is my Formal Name. That’s just dumb.
  • Social CRM is pretty lame. Maybe you can detect when somebody is unhappy on Twitter, but you probably can’t really help them in 140 characters. Do you really want to wait until they are unhappy anyway?
  • I figure people don’t mind so much being a number in your system if you allow them to be a smart number. In fact, I’d love to be just a number.. my number, the same number in many systems.
  • This is why we need CRM to work with VRM.

The Solution

The way this should work.. I should control my personal information. I should be able to create a relationship with BA and share my travel profile. I get to choose my Common Name and provide my Formal Name. If I change my information on my side it should reflect in their system. Simple.

ps. I did later dig around the BA website and found a place where I can enter passport details and a Formal Name. I’ve yet to figure out if it uses that for future ticket bookings. I’m not happy that I had to dig around to find it.

UPDATE 2010/09/16: No response from BA. I give up. Maybe I scared them by actually proposing a solution.

3 thoughts on “British Airways and Common Names

  1. Post to HelloPeter website – usually gripes get seen to asap from there.

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