Passenger name snafu/security risk?

Old Jun 24, 22, 11:21 am
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Passenger name snafu/security risk?

I had an interesting situation happen yesterday, one that grew more and more worrisome the more I thought about it, as it seemed to be indicative of multiple process failures. I was boarding a United flight from ORD to DEN and while I waited, it was apparent that at least one flight that morning had been cancelled, as there were 40+ people on the stand-by list. I boarded the flight in Group 1 and went to my assigned seat (11F). About 10 minutes later, it appeared that there was some musical chairs going on in the rows behind me. All of the sudden, the passenger behind me politely poked me on the shoulder and said that it appeared that I was in his seat. He held up a boarding pass that showed he had been assigned 11F. At the same time, I held up my own boarding pass that showed my assigned seat of ... 11F. A few moments later, one of the flight attendents walked over, compared the boarding passes, and said, "Ok, which one of you is FIRST NAME, MIDDLE NAME, LAST NAME?" I raised my hand and to my surprise, the other passenger behind me also raised his hand.

At this moment, the flight attendant asked for our IDs and sure enough, we had identical names (Identical in spelling as well). At this point, the flight attendent looked quite confused. I told him my MileagePlus number, which corresponded with the boarding pass. I started talking to my name doppleganger and he said that he had been on an earlier cancelled flight and he had been rebooked on a flight later that afternoon. He had gone to United Customer Service to see if he could jump on this flight and was given that boarding pass. Eventually, the gate crew looked at my ID and looked at his ID and figured out that my birthdate corresponded to the passenger record that was supposed to be on the flight, but there was a very weird 15 minutes there.

What I'm guessing happened (I don't know for sure) is that the doppleganger had gone to customer service trying to get on the earlier flight, the attendant working looked at the passenger manifest and said, "Oh, he must have automatically been rebooked on this flight" and printed out a duplicate of my boarding pass.

At this point, I have two questions (if my scenario above is true):
  1. Did the customer service agent just not perform any additional checks like verifying the PNR/Confirmation Numbers/Birthdays and issue the duplicate boarding pass? I get that mistakes happen, we're human, but that's a bit concerning.
  2. If I got on the aircraft first, why did United's system allow the doppleganger sitting in the exact same seat to scan the boarding pass and get on the aircraft? Wouldn't that have kicked off some sort of error message? "I only have one Korben Dallas on this flight and he's already checked in."
Anyway, weird circumstance and it ended up getting sorted out, but I'm just curious if this or something similar has happened to anyone else, as the flight crew and gate crew had never heard of something like that happening before.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 11:36 am
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Was your doppelganger's boarding pass actually a copy of yours (same PNR and ticket), or just the same seat assignment? It is possible to assign two different pax to the same seat by accident - uncommon, but perhaps not as uncommon as your situation.

Even if he had a copy of yours:

1) No, I wouldn't expect the average CS human to look that carefully - this sounds like a totally plausible human mistake.
2) Yes, but the scanner beeps all the time (including for exit row pax), and it's completely possible the GA ignored the beep. People have gotten on the wrong flight before (and flown it), bypassing a similar control.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 11:39 am
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
Was your doppelganger's boarding pass actually a copy of yours (same PNR and ticket), or just the same seat assignment?
Same PNR/ticket/MileagePlus number according to the flight attendant.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 11:48 am
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
1) No, I wouldn't expect the average CS human to look that carefully - this sounds like a totally plausible human mistake.
2) Yes, but the scanner beeps all the time (including for exit row pax), and it's completely possible the GA ignored the beep. People have gotten on the wrong flight before (and flown it), bypassing a similar control.
I would mostly agree its a one off.

Just curious: and you don't have to be specific... but how common is your name?

James Smith? or Dr. Quinnaford Tiberius Nowasotka-Kuznetsov Jr.?
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Old Jun 24, 22, 11:55 am
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Originally Posted by GTJoe View Post
Did the customer service agent just not perform any additional checks like verifying the PNR/Confirmation Numbers/Birthdays and issue the duplicate boarding pass? I get that mistakes happen, we're human, but that's a bit concerning.
So, a potential miscreant would simply need to find some other person with exactly the same first, middle, and last name, book to the same destination, and then rely on a flight cancellation and an overworked customer service rep to make a mistake?

There have got to be a thousand less complicated ways to do evil, should one be so inclined.
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Jun 24, 22 at 9:27 pm Reason: Let's stick to the UA issue
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Old Jun 24, 22, 12:19 pm
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
So, a potential miscreant would simply need to find some other person with exactly the same first, middle, and last name, book to the same destination, and then rely on a flight cancellation and an overworked customer service rep to make a mistake?

There have got to be a thousand less complicated ways to do evil, should one be so inclined.
So easy. Watch out, we're going to have an epidemic of scofflaws stealing seats on flights now that this trick is out there.

I agree, this is a crazy story for happy hour, not a real security risk
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Jun 24, 22 at 9:28 pm Reason: Quote updated to reflect Moderator edit
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Old Jun 24, 22, 12:45 pm
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Human mistakes happens. I've been given someone else's hotel room, went back to the front desk, and found out that there were two of us with the same name in the hotel. The joke is that now I know which room I can charge all the drinks to.

Originally Posted by findark View Post
Was your doppelganger's boarding pass actually a copy of yours (same PNR and ticket), or just the same seat assignment? It is possible to assign two different pax to the same seat by accident - uncommon, but perhaps not as uncommon as your situation.

Even if he had a copy of yours:

1) No, I wouldn't expect the average CS human to look that carefully - this sounds like a totally plausible human mistake.
2) Yes, but the scanner beeps all the time (including for exit row pax), and it's completely possible the GA ignored the beep. People have gotten on the wrong flight before (and flown it), bypassing a similar control.
This is exactly it - the system identifies the previously scanned BP, but the GA just ignored it.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 1:02 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
2) Yes, but the scanner beeps all the time (including for exit row pax), and it's completely possible the GA ignored the beep.
Originally Posted by PTahCha View Post
This is exactly it - the system identifies the previously scanned BP, but the GA just ignored it.
Or just asked, "exit row ok?"
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Old Jun 24, 22, 1:26 pm
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
The fixation on ID for flying continues to flummox me.
It's more about revenue protection than security.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 1:29 pm
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Originally Posted by mahasamatman View Post
It's more about revenue protection than security.
That would explain the airline's interest in asking for ID, but not the TSA's, nor the implication from the OP that this was some kind of security issue. (You're right as far as that goes, of course the airlines do not want StubHub for flights).
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Old Jun 24, 22, 1:44 pm
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Fair enough, everyone. I appreciate the feedback and the wisdom on this. I guess it's less of a security consdieration than I had feared.
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Last edited by GTJoe; Jun 24, 22 at 1:44 pm Reason: Additional clarification.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 4:12 pm
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The other person went through a WEI security check at TSA so that is not an issue and regardless of my thoughts on the pure theatre of the ID checks, since all were screened no issues.

I don't put to malice what is likely incompeincompetence so I would guess lazy and/or rushed agent saw the name and thought another agent did it without doing more thorough checks. It is an interesting and what I suspect is a very rare situation. Play the lottery tonight! ;-)
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Old Jun 24, 22, 5:09 pm
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Originally Posted by GTJoe View Post
I was boarding a United flight from ORD to DEN and while I waited.... I'm just curious if this or something similar has happened to anyone else, as the flight crew and gate crew had never heard of something like that happening before.
It wasn't me, but I saw it once. I don't know the backstory on how it happened, but I was in 12A on an ERJ145 for the ORD/GRR hop, and two passengers with the same name showed up with boarding passes for 12C. The one who arrived second went to the front of the plane with an FA to sort things out and didn't return. It was a full flight, so either he wasn't the intended LastName/FirstName, or it was first come/first served on AA that day.

And maybe it's just an ORD thing?
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Old Jun 24, 22, 5:23 pm
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Originally Posted by PTahCha View Post
This is exactly it - the system identifies the previously scanned BP, but the GA just ignored it.
Originally Posted by FlyingHoustonian View Post
...so I would guess lazy and/or rushed agent saw the name and thought another agent did it without doing more thorough checks.
Yeah. I have a friend whose last name starts with A, and on UA, he says this regularly happens to him. Like they want to kick off the boarding process, so they get a list of pax, and just board the first one, which I guess triggers the notification about boarding, etc.

I've had it happen on a different airline. I could see the screen said I was already boarded, and one agent said to the other "no no he's good, let him on". That one I couldn't even speculate about, because my last name starts with a K. And I wasn't in seat 1A or anything.

GAs do weird things all the time, and what's the "correct" procedure here? Tell you that you can't board? Go on board and try to figure out if someone else boarded with your BP? Seems easier to wait for the "two pax one seat" scenario.
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Old Jun 24, 22, 6:55 pm
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Sometime similar happened to my sister pre-9/11 (either on US or HP). Except it involved a man. One gender has a very common 4-letter name. If you remove one letter, it becomes a very common 3-letter name for the other gender. The TA checking my sister in must've thought there was a typo or something and printed out the wrong boarding pass.
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