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.
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.