What's In A Name?

February 26, 2010

On a whim, when purchasing plane tickets to Germany in January, I signed Sibylle and I up for Delta Skymiles accounts. We like to visit Europe and try to use Delta for those trips and it seemed like a good idea to start benefitting from our loyalty.

The miles for our flights in January appeared on both our accounts beautifully. Following the death of her mother we returned to Germany in February and again I used Delta for the flights and our Skymiles accounts. While in Germany I needed to change the return dates and therefore accessed the Delta sight and discovered that her miles had not updated like mine had. Her flights weren't all showing up properly.

Now that we are back in the States I decided to call Delta to see what was going on with her Skymiles account. It all has to do with her name.

In September 1962 the birth registrar made a clerical error. He (or she) reversed Sibylle's first and middle names on the form, and she (or he) misspelled Sibylle. This was never a problem and Sibylle herself wasn't aware of the situation until she applied for a passport in her teens and had to sign her legal name, reversed from what she knew and misspelled.

Fast forward to today. Delta not only tracks your trips by your Skymiles account number but by spelling and appearance of the name on the ticket. I registered her account using her first initial and the correct spelling of her middle name, Sibylle. However that doesn't match her passport which matches her clerically erred birth certificate, showing first name and middle name reversed, the middle name misspelled, and then last name. Nor does the Skymiles account name match her driver's license which shows birth certificate first name, middle initial, and last name.

Delta is willing to untangle her Skymiles account and credit her with both round-trip flights to Germany but only after seeing a copy of the passport, receipts for the tickets purchased, and a request from us. They claim it usually takes 72 hours to update an account. Sometimes as long as a week. Sibylle is considering a return trip to Germany in two weeks to work on her mother's estate some more. I'm sure that this new set of flights will further complicate her Skymiles account.

As we move more and more of our daily interactions onto computers, and as service providers work to eliminate fraud, situations like this will become more common. Accuracy in entering data (both by individuals and by organizations capturing the data) will be critical. Just having an account number won't be enough. It may become increasingly complicated to prove that you are really you.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.