Can an airline sue a passenger for deliberately missing a flight? Because that’s what Lufthansa is trying to do.
The back story; a passenger looking to fly from “A” to “B” found it was cheaper to book a flight from “A” to “C” which stopped at “B” en route to “C”. What said passenger did was simply exit when the aircraft stopped at “B”.
As far as they were concerned, they were home and hosed, money saved and no harm done. That’s not the way Lufthansa saw it, since it deprived the airline of revenue it could have earned selling that seat on the “B” to “C” sector. Lufthansa said “nein!”, dragged the miscreant into court and although the law called it in the passenger’s favour, Lufthansa has decided to appeal the decision.
How getting off early works
How is it that an airline can charge more for a shorter flight than a longer one? That’s because an airline will reduce prices to sell seats on flights it has trouble filling. For example, a flight from Istanbul to London might cost $300, whereas a flight that goes from Istanbul to Glasgow via London might be only $250. Istanbul to London is a popular route, Istanbul to Glasgow not so much, so the airline reduces its price in order to get bodies on board.
Why doesn’t the airline simply nix the London-Glasgow flight? Because that is also a popular sector, and the airline makes money flying it. Perhaps not quite popular enough to fill seats with passengers originating from London, but the airline has calculated that those wishing to fly Istanbul-Glasgow will give them the load factor they’re aiming for. The passengers looking to game the system buys the ticket to Glasgow and exits the aircraft when it docks in London. It’s a practice known as hidden city ticketing, or skiplagging.
Airlines hate skiplaggers. Not only does it cut into their revenue since they can’t sell that empty seat on the London-Glasgow sector. It also has the potential to delay flights since the aircraft sits waiting for a passenger who is never going to show up.
Skiplagging takes its name from the Skiplagged website, which specialises in finding fares for those keen to score a bargain at airlines’ expense. Skiplagged was developed by Aktarer Zaman, a young New York City computer wizard.
Back in April 2015, United Airlines hauled Zaman into a Chicago courtroom looking to neuter his game but the judge threw the case out on the grounds it was outside the court’s jurisdiction. By that time Skiplagged had already acquired a devoted following. In the month the case was dismissed, Skiplagged logged more than 1 million visitors.
Airlines could possibly target individual flyers who rort their system but as Lufthansa is finding out, it’s problematic. They could blacklist them from future flights, possibly freeze their frequent flyer account and, if they really got grouchy, do what Lufthansa is doing and pursue legal action. In reality, airlines hate to go legal because of the bad publicity that ensues. Just about everyone has a grudge against airlines. When they pick on an individual who is only doing what everyone considers to be a minor misdemeanour, even when they win, they lose.
One snag for the passenger looking to skiplag – it only works for those with just carry-ons. Since your luggage is going to be tagged to its final destination and not the one where you intend to surreptitiously depart the aircraft, you’ll need to travel light. Should you happen to travel with checked luggage and let slip at the check-in desk that you’d like your luggage tagged to an intermediate rather than your final destination, you’ve just outed yourself, and you probably won’t be getting on the flight.
Another pitfall that has caught out a handful of travellers – you might be travelling from London to Sydney and although you might find a bonza flight that goes Oslo-London-Sydney, if you don’t board at Oslo your goose is cooked. If a passenger fails to board at any point in an itinerary, the remainder of their booking is voided.
Does skiplagging work in Australia?
Distances between our major cities are far greater than in Europe and North America, and airfares on major routes are geared to the distance flown. If you’re looking to fly from Perth to Melbourne, for example, it’s never going to be cheaper to buy a flight ticket from Perth to Sydney via Melbourne.
Another variation on this theme that takes advantage of anomalies in airlines’ ticket pricing is throwaway ticketing. Major carriers usually discount round-trip fares but charge full price for one-way tickets. It’s not uncommon to find that a one-way ticket costs more than a return. A passenger wanting to fly one-way only might purchase a round-trip ticket and toss the return trip, a throwaway ticket.
It would be extremely unlikely to find a ticket departing from, and returning to, an Australian port cheaper than a one-way fare out of Australia. However for many overseas destinations, it’s not hard to find instances where buying a return ticket and ditching the return journey saves you heaps.
For example, if you want to fly one-way from Los Angeles to London with American Airlines, departing on April 10, the cheapest ticket is $2906. If you were to book a return ticket departing that same date, the cheapest return ticket would cost $814.40, so why wouldn’t you? A business class return ticket LAX-LHR departing April 10 and returning two weeks later would set you back $8863, but a one-way ticket departing April 10 – a whopping $15,593.
While the throwaway ticket strategy can work in your favour with full service airlines, it doesn’t apply to low-cost carriers. LCCs know you’re only flying with them because they offer the cheapest price. They charge per sector, and the more sectors you fly the more you pay.
See also: How to get an upgrade on a flight