Former Airline Customer Service Manager checking in here. Even post 9/11 a name change was possible. If the circumstance warranted it I could over ride the policy. I trained my staff to use common sense and I never hesitated to do the right thing.
It’d have to be a real good reason though. I bought this ticket for my wife and I to use in August and she was just killed in an auto accident in Kansas. I need to change the date of travel to today and I want to put my sister-in-law’s name on her ticket.
I’d rather take a chance that I might be scammed than to find out that I screwed someone over in a time of family crisis. Most times I made the call to over ride, I’d waive the change fee and fare difference too. It was rare, but I did it often enough that I knew how to do it in Sabre.
If anyone at an airline tells you it can’t be done they are lying. In this day and age the name change feature is built into the reservation system. If you misspell your name, leave off a suffix like Jr, or III, we needed to be able to match it up for screening purposes, so changing a name completely is possible.
Now that being said, even at my airline there were rule Nazis who didn’t believe in grey. Only black and white. I heard time and again about how inflexible other carriers were in regards to rules.