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Lufthansa

Lufthansa Now Suing Passengers Over “Hidden City” Itineraries

Lufthansa Now Suing Passengers Over “Hidden City” Itineraries
Jeff Edwards

Lufthansa has taken the unusual step of attempting to drag a passenger into court for taking advantage of a so-called “skiplagging” scheme. The flyer who reportedly booked a connecting itinerary with the intention of ending his journey at the layover airport, saved thousands of dollars, but was forced to defend the controversial practice in front of a judge.

It is no secret that airlines hate the practice known as skiplagging. Carriers around the world have made a point to punish passengers who take advantage of these “hidden city” fares. Airlines routinely take away frequent flyer miles, cancel return trips and, in some cases, even send invoices to flyers for the higher fares they would have otherwise paid.  Now, German flag-carrier Lufthansa has reportedly taken the rare step of filing a lawsuit against a passenger who used the controversial technique to obtain a lower price airfare.

In a hypothetical case in which the airfare between, say, Indianapolis International Airport (IND) and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) via Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is less expensive that a flight between IND and ATL, it seems logical for a passenger headed from Indianapolis to Atlanta to simply book the longer (and cheaper) itinerary and then not board the flight to Cincinnati. The airline industry strongly disagrees, in part, insisting that airfare between destinations less than 100 miles apart should, in fact, cost less than airfare between cities that are nearly 600 miles away from each other.

Skiplagged, a website which helps flyers identify savings through hidden city itineraries, has in the past, faced lawsuits from United Airlines and Orbitz, but until now, airlines have been resistant to pursuing legal cases against the passengers.  This policy may be changing. According to Simple Flying, Lufthansa attempted to sue a passenger who flew from Oslo Airport (OSL) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) by booking a much cheaper ticket from OSO to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) via FRA and then simply not boarding the transatlantic leg of the trip.

Source: Simple Flying

While the court agreed that Lufthansa had a valid claim, the case was dismissed over questions about how the company arrived at the figures used to calculate financial damages. While the German carrier lost this particular battle, there appears to be very little in the decision that would dissuade the airline from pursuing similar claims in the future.

While proponents of skiplag booking says that the practice is a simple matter of creatively finding the best published fare, the airline industry has a much less generous view of the activity. American Airlines has even sent warning letters to passengers suspected of taking advantage of hidden city itineraries, noting that the tactic is tantamount to “switching price tags to obtain a lower price on goods sold at department stores.”

Most carriers have now included language in their terms of carriage specifically prohibiting passengers from intentionally booking hidden city itineraries, but attempts to eliminate the scheme have been largely unsuccessful. Lufthansa’s recent escalation would seem to indicate that the airlines aren’t about to stop trying to stomp out the practice entirely.

 

For the FlyerTalk on the topic head to this Lufthansa thread, or this one in the British Airways forum.

View Comments (11)

11 Comments

  1. ChinaShrek

    February 11, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Why isn’t this false imprisonment? What if something comes up and I need to miss the next flight?

  2. infinite97

    February 11, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    If the airlines want to eliminate this tactic, they can price their flights appropriately. End of discussion.

  3. htb

    February 11, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Seriously??? $3000 less than the standard fare between OSO and FRA, when the walk up l one-easy fare is more like $600? Not boarding the transatlantic segment?
    I recommend re-reading the linked source and then rewriting the article.

  4. MrGood

    February 12, 2019 at 10:08 am

    The case should be dismissed! The airlines should only be angry at themselves for not pricing their flights in accordance to the connection/route. It is by fault of their own. Do you blame the cop for pulling you over for running a stop sign?

    This is simply the concept of a Customer taking advantage of Opportunities available through the Company, whether or not it was the company’s intention. Absolutely Nothing illegal about that. And at the rate the sue-happy airlines are going, they might as well sue the frequent fliers taking advantage of great loyalty mile/revenue flights! Just ridiculous…

  5. Kataskopos

    February 13, 2019 at 9:31 am

    it is extremely rich of Lufthansa to try to sue a passenger over this when I have three pending lawsuits against them for failure to reimburse cancelled flights and for refusing to pay 261/2004/EC compensation.
    Worse than low cost airlines…

  6. j2simpso

    February 13, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I don’t understand why the traveller wouldn’t just continue on to Oslo then catch a budget flight back to Berlin. That way they earn full miles and probably also get a lower fare since flights from Scandinavia to Europe are dirt cheap.

    Also you’d have to pay me to fly to Berlins airfield (I won’t even call it an airport). I guess that’s why all my friends tell me Frankfurt is the capital of Germany :p

  7. Tailgater

    February 13, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Well, I don’t know if this relates exactly but I know if one misses a leg of a itinerary airlines usually cancel the rest of the itinerary and don’t notify you. Ironically, here the airline demands that you not miss a leg or expect extra payment.

  8. leonidas

    February 13, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I think that the difference here, as compared with other cases, is that it’s very easy to prove malicious intent. The customer bought a separate FRA-TXL ticket and flew that. It was a stupid mistake to buy it on Lufthansa.

    If you Skiplag, make it random, without forming a pattern. And absolutely don’t make mistakes like buying a separate ticket on the same airline from the dropoff point.

  9. edmm

    February 14, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I had a horrible experience of this several years ago with Lufthansa. I had flown to Vienna through FRA and because of a late connection barely made my FRA-VIE flight. I only made it because a Lufthansa staff member met me off the plane and escorted me through. On the day before my return flight to New Zealand I was told by my travel agent that Lufthansa had cancelled my (paid Business Class) trip home because I was a “no-show” for my FRA-VIE flight. No amount of phone calls would persuade them to change their minds, and no amount of proof, including the boarding pass and the (paperwork-proven) fact that they had delivered my delayed luggage to my hotel in Vienna. They assured me I wasn’t there in Vienna because I could not have been on the flight.
    In the end my only option was to sit n the doorway of the Vienna Lufthansa office (not sure if it is still there) and refuse to move until they reinstated the tickets. After an hour of people stepping over me they eventually agreed to reinstate the tickets.
    I never had an apology and it put me off Lufthansa for quite a long time.
    I think it is time for airlines to scrap this stupid policy and start pricing airfares appropriately. Surely it is usually to the airline’s advantage if you don’t turn up for a flight, they can put someone else in your seat (that you have paid for).

  10. htb

    February 14, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    @leonidas: his travel plans changed. He needed to be in Berlin, not Copenhagen. LH’s conditions don’t allow changing the ticket anyway. It’s therefore very interesting to ask what LH thinks he should have done…

  11. simpleflyer

    February 16, 2019 at 7:05 am

    **While the court agreed that Lufthansa had a valid claim**

    , the case was dismissed over questions about how the company arrived at the figures used to calculate financial damages.

    ***************************
    Would be interesting to read sometime the court’s reasoning as to why the claim were valid

    **************************

    ChinaShrek – You ask about ‘false imprisonment.’ IMNAL but there are many situations where you cannot claim the airline is imprisoning you, say in situations where the airline is subject to other forces natural and political.

    For example, once you are airborne you cannot leave the plane even if your plans or wishes change, ; – )

    .. nor even if the aircraft is on the ground it can happen that the stop was unplanned and local border staff weren’t prepared to process any arrivals (see the Gander story,)

    ************

    “Well, I don’t know if this relates exactly but I know if one misses a leg of a itinerary airlines usually cancel the rest of the itinerary and don’t notify you. Ironically, here the airline demands that you not miss a leg or expect extra payment.”

    IANAL but at a guess it has to do with your implicitly declaring you are part of the A to C market, not part of the A to B market. C’s local government might subsidize air travel for A to C, but not wish to do so for travelers to B.

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