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Lufthansa lawsuit pursues wily ‘hidden city’ passenger

February 13, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email


In the latest episode of a long-running battle between big airlines and their cunning customers, Lufthansa is suing a passenger who used a long-established “hidden city” hack to obtain a cheaper flight by booking – and then deliberately not taking – the last leg of their ticketed journey.

Other airlines, notably United in the US, have tried to bring similar suits, without success.

The trick works by exploiting the fact that passengers will pay a premium for nonstop flights, leading airlines to charge more for popular routes than for less popular, longer, multi-connection routes. Websites have been established that work out such routes and steer users to cheaper tickets. Passengers just get out at the “hidden city” stopover and don’t take the final leg.

Airlines frown on the practice or ban it outright, considering it fraudulent. Some carriers threaten to void a ticket without refund if they catch travellers trying it.

Passengers can use the ruse only if they travel without checked baggage, so it’s no threat to premium leisure traffic, and probably not to business traffic either.

In the latest case involving Lufthansa, an initial court case found in the passenger’s favour, but Lufthansa has now been given permission to appeal, Britain’s Independent reports.

Airline conditions of carriage routinely warn that passengers may be pursued for payment. British Airways’ small print, for instance, states: “Where you change your travel without our agreement and the price for the resulting transportation you intend to undertake is greater than the price originally paid, you will be requested to pay the difference in price.”

Qatar Airways says: “Should you change your transportation without our agreement or fail to fly the complete itinerary booked, we will assess the correct price for your actual travel. You will have to pay any difference between the price paid and the total price applicable, together with any applicable administration charge, for your revised transportation.”

Lufthansa pursues cunning ‘hidden city’ flyer

In practice, airlines generally let passengers get away with it. Lufthansa, it seems, may be making an example of a passenger to dissuade others.

In 2015, United Airlines and travel site Orbitz sued a website, Skiplagged.com, run by a young tech whiz-kid (aged 22 at the time), who used “hidden city” connections to provide cheap air tickets.

United and Orbitz sought a court order to halt Skiplagged.com using the practice. They sued Aktarer Zaman, the tech entrepreneur behind the site, for “unfair competition” and “deceptive behaviour,” alleging that the site promoted “strictly prohibited” travel. Their suit sought USD 75,000 in damages.

Zaman fought back, using crowdfunding to raise costs. He said he had done nothing wrong, just made publicly available information easier to access.

A Chicago judge dismissed the United Airlines and Orbitz lawsuit, saying the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the case because Zaman didn’t live or do business in that city.

Zaman described the lawsuit’s dismissal as “definitely a victory”.

Skiplagged.com is still online, trumpeting: “Find flights the airlines don’t want you to see. Ridiculous travel deals you can’t find anywhere else. We’re exposing loopholes in airfare pricing to save you money.”

Just to rub it in, Skiplagged has added a new note: Our flights are so cheap, United sued us… but we won.

Lufthansa obviously hopes to do better in court than its Star Alliance stablemate United Airlines.

Written by Peter Needham



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