Judge Dismisses Case Over Cheap ‘Hidden City’ Airline Tickets

Despite not losing for the right reasons, United Airlines lost the latest round in its effort to stop a website that helps people find “hidden city” ticket pairs.

The airline, as well as online travel site Orbitz, sued New York-based Skiplagged.com and its founder, Aktarer Zaman, in November seeking to stop the site from sending users to Orbitz to purchase United tickets.

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Illinois isn’t the proper venue for the carrier’s claims.

The “hidden city” ticketing method involves buying an airline ticket between two cities with a connection, but ditching the rest of the trip.

For example, if you want to fly from Las Vegas to Philadelphia but find a ticket from Vegas to Boston, with a connection in Philadelphia, that’s cheaper you land in Philly and leave the airport, retaining the savings.

The fact large corporations are suing over the practice shows just how far big companies will go to force their customers give them as much money as possible. If you find an error in their pricing they feel entitled to sue you rather than honor the posted price.

It also allows airlines and travel websites to effectively gang up on consumers and not have to price their offerings as efficiently as possible. They can set prices that make no sense in order to maximize their profits and not allow consumers the choice to honor only one leg of a multi-leg flight, should it make sense. The absurd way airlines try to price gouge means it does often make sense for consumers to skip a leg.

In short the airlines, long known for their love of pricing games, are arguing that they can be very clever with pricing but any human who figures out how to be smarter is not allowed to do so. The move is quintessentially un-American.

In defending their actions, United made the laughable claim that “hidden-city ticketing can delay flights as gate agents await travelers who don’t show up”, which as any traveler late for a flight can tell you is never the case. If you are mere seconds late, the door closes and the planes go on their way. You’re stuck trying to arrange another flight.

While the ruling ensures awareness of the practice can continue to spread, U.S. District Judge John Blakey ruled Thursday that Illinois isn’t the appropriate place for Chicago-based United to bring its lawsuit, given that neither Zaman nor Skiplagged has “relevant, meaningful contacts” in the state. “This dismissal does not preclude Plaintiff from refiling and litigating its claims in a proper forum,” Blakey wrote in his decision.

Any decision for United would be a massive blow to savvy American consumers. The airlines are trying to create a ‘heads I win tails you lose’ pricing system that is predatory to American consumers. It will be interesting to see if a fair venue, free from massive corporate influence, can be found for the trial.

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