If your name is too long, too short, hyphenated, or contains an apostrophe — you probably have trouble while flying.
Apostrophes, hyphens, and other special characters in names have been an issue for flyers for many years. A blog post from 2007 describes a flyer having trouble with booking a ticket because of a hyphenated last name. A decade later, another flyer, John Scott-Railton wrote a blog post about the same issue. Both airlines and technology have evolved plenty in that span and yet flying with a hyphenated name is as bad as ever.
“Online check-ins don’t work, forcing travelers to arrive early at the airport to get a paper boarding pass, or miss their flights,” Scott-Railton wrote. “Customs flags travelers arriving in the U.S. for extra scrutiny, resulting in long waits. TSA may send travelers back to airline counters.”
For Gerard O’Neill, a software engineer at Atlassian, this is an issue he deals with at his job and in his life.
O’Neill writes software for a living and participates in discussions that include esoteric questions such as “what would we consider a valid name,” which is maybe something software engineers shouldn’t be discussing.
Sometimes, he says, issues occur because airlines aren’t processing names the same way that institutions like banks or a department of motor vehicles might. Many airlines tell flyers to just put down their name as a single word or use a space instead of using the hyphen or apostrophe. This causes inconsistencies in the passenger’s name in billing or identification as compared to the name on the ticket.
But often airlines employ requirements that go beyond special characters, they also have requirements about name lengths.
A friend of O’Neill’s has a tough time booking tickets because her name is too short. Her first name is just K.
“Most times I have to call to buy tickets over the phone and then have to request to speak to a manager or supervisor to waive service fees for doing it over the phone,” she said. “The worst is that I can’t just make a purchase online and sometimes I’ve missed certain deals because by the time I was able to get an agent on the line the price has changed or the seat was sold.”
According to O’Neill, “For the most part, if you treat special characters like you treat the letters A through Z, things will work fine most of the time,” i.e. allowing symbols in names the same way we allow letters. The programmers who build these systems are writing what they call “validation logic” for each field you fill in. Validation logic or data validation ensures that the user is inputting correct and useful data for the field. For something like an email or phone number field, it makes sense to have restrictions since those are inherently restricted formats — a phone number must have a certain format. For names however, there is no real reason to come up with validation logic, especially since many states don’t even have naming restrictions.
“The issue arises when programmers attempt to enforce rules on what a name should look like. A naive programmer might think, “A name is anything with the letters A to Z,” O’Neill explains.
Validation logic for a name may be something like: Must be greater than 1 and less than 200 characters, can only contain alphabets from A-Z. (Patrick McKenzie’s well known blog post “Falsehoods programmers believe about names” discusses many such assumptions that programmers, and by extension systems, make about names.)
In some cases these systems’ ability, or lack thereof, to properly handle names can be frustrating because they don’t currently display someone’s name, such as on a conference name tag. In many cases they can be inconvenient and even prohibitive, such as when they prevent people from making payments or booking tickets.
“The main problem is that names are complicated. No programmer, including myself, knows every possible variation,” O’Neill says. He suggests that programmers leave names alone and don’t try to validate or fix them. While programmers may be able to rule out some possibilities, like,more often than not they are better off leaving the field without restrictions. And for airlines concerned about people using fake names? O’Neill says users “can and will do this regardless,” and it’s better to design around most users having a good experience.
We’ve reached out to Delta and United and will update this story if we hear from them.
Source : www.mashable.com
Author : Freia Lobo