Airlines in America have lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Delta Airlines reportedly "booted" a family with a toddler from their flight and are even said to have gone as far as threatening the family with "jail."
The family had purchased three tickets for three seats, one being for their teenage son who ended up on a different flight. Since they also had a toddler, they attempted to use the "extra" seat for their toddler instead of holding him on their laps as required.
The first "mistake" occurred at the boarding gate when the agent is reported to have allowed the family to use the "extra" seat for their toddler.
But later on before take-off, the airline demanded the seat for a wait listed passenger and asked the family to hold the toddler. The family refused and they were off loaded from the flight.
The airline has since apologised for the incident but the damage had been done. This came after a video -- shot in a United Airlines plane went viral -- showing a passenger being dragged out of his seat and through the aisle by airline security for refusing to give up his seat.
In both instances, the problem was the decisions made at the boarding gates by airline officials.
Locally, a passenger had to endure a night bus travel after being stopped from boarding her flight after check-in.
The airline explained that by the time boarding for the Nairobi-Kisumu flight was completed, the airline had not confirmed whether the credit card used to purchase her ticket -- which was done by her spouse -- was genuine or not.
According to the airline, the name on the ticket and the paying party did not match and since the owner of the card could not be reached, they had no choice but to deny her boarding.
The mistake was that they checked her in and even issued her with a boarding pass before confirming the card details.
While the airline has refused to refund the fare, she can initiate a refund request with her credit card company within 180 days.
From the above cases, you get the feeling that airlines are quick to hide behind policy and its enforcement rather than take time and educate their passengers in advance on how some of their company policies can affect passengers' travel.
Airlines have long been plagued by cases of name related fraud on air tickets.
As a traveller, there are certain policies you must be aware of as far as name, transferability and ticket changes go.
The traveller's name as it appears on the ticket must match the names on the passport or any other identification used.
Submitting wrong names or erroneous passenger name lists can result in airlines being fined by regulating bodies or governments.
For most airlines, tickets are non-transferable, to reduce the possibility of fraud and guard against revenue losses.
In the case of the Delta passenger, the right thing was to cancel the ticket of the teenager who had earlier flown on another flight and seek a refund if applicable. Infants and toddlers (under two years old) are expected to sit on their parents laps as they usually pay a fraction of the fare.
In IATA's Conditions of Carriage, a "model" agreement that airlines can use to construct their own, a ticket is not transferable.
While the body says this is subject to airlines' commercial policies, there are numerous government and immigration imposed requirements that call for strict security measures that airlines must comply with.
Sometimes even a wrong passenger manifest or a misspelt name can attract fines and sanctions against an airline.
Passengers need to know the rules and restrictions attached to every airline ticket purchased.
Where passengers intend to change their tickets for one reason or the other, related cancellation provisions kick in and will be fully applied.
Some of these provisions are very punitive and restrictive, depending on the season of travel, and levels of demand at that given time. Pay attention to ticket validity related provisions. A change of reservations during peak travel season may attract higher charges, specially if the ticket was sold cheaper than other tickets in the different fare classes.
On the other hand, promotional tickets sold during low demand seasons may have a zero refund policy in case of cancellation or change of reservations.
Keep in mind that it is often an exercise in futility to demand a refund from an airline for tickets purchased through travel agents. All refund requests must be directed to the appropriate ticket vendor.
Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi.