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Skiplagging: The risky travel hack leading to lawsuits and airline bans

Logan Parsons was detained at a Florida airport after he was reportedly caught skip-lagging. (AP photo)

VERONICA BOOTH
Wealth of Geeks

Published: February 20, 2024

In July 2023, a 17-year-old was questioned and subsequently banned from American Airlines for three years for doing allegedly "skiplagging." His flight was from Gainesville, Florida, to New York City but had a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, his intended destination.
When the boy went to check in for his flight at the airline counter, the American Airlines employee noticed that he presented a North Carolina driver's license, raising suspicion that he was a skiplagger.
Skiplagging, or hidden city ticketing, is when people buy a flight with a layover, but their actual destination is the layover city, not the final destination. People do this to save money, as frequently, the flight with a layover is less expensive than the direct flight to the final destination.
Supposedly, the North Carolina teen was taken to a security room and questioned until, as the boy's father, Hunter Parsons, says, "They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard [sic] in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight." Following this confession, the airline representative canceled his ticket, forcing his family to purchase a new ticket for a direct flight from Florida to North Carolina.
While it is unclear whether or not the airline's security implied the boy was detained and brought to a security room versus being questioned at the counter, the cancellation of his ticket has sparked an online conversation about the legality, morality, and consequences of skiplagging.
Skiplagging has plagued airlines for years, but this hack is becoming more prevalent as they continue to gauge people for airline tickets using a convoluted pricing system, and more people learn about this trick. As skiplagging becomes more common, many airlines are cracking down on skiplaggers by tracking passenger habits, questioning passengers, and enforcing punishments.
The Legality of Skiplagging
How airlines respond to skiplagging makes some people think this practice is illegal, but this is not true. Skiplagging is 100% legal, as the consumer paid for their ticket and has every right to skip the whole flight, half the flight, or complete the flight. After all, people miss flights every day.
While skiplagging does not break any law, it violates most airlines' conditions of carriage, which are essentially their terms of service.
Despite the legality of skiplagging, multiple airlines have still filed lawsuits over this controversial practice. United, Southwest, and German airline Lufthansa have all filed lawsuits against skiplagging passengers or companies helping people skiplag.
United, in tandem with Orbitz, filed a lawsuit against Aktarer Zaman, founder of the website Skiplagged.com, which helps people find hidden city tickets. While Orbitz eventually settled with Zaman out of court, United did not waver. A judge ultimately threw the case out due to jurisdiction conflicts, but it was seen as a victory for skiplaggers.
In 2021, Southwest also filed a lawsuit against Skiplagged.com, citing that the company has no right to display Southwest fares. This case was settled out of court.
Lufthansa decided to go after a passenger in 2018 suspected of skiplagging, suing them for $2,385 in damages for violating the airline's terms of service. This case was also dismissed, but the airline is appealing the decision.
The Morality of Skiplagging
While airlines treat skiplaggers like criminals, most people see no moral issue with the money-saving hack.
However, consumers are questioning the morality of the airlines' behavior.
Skiplagging passengers pay full price for their ticket and choose not to use their full purchase. For many, this is no more problematic than buying a sandwich and only eating half.
Also, most airlines do not guarantee that passengers will make their second flight. If the first leg of a trip is delayed, causing the passenger to miss the second leg, most airlines will not offer any form of reimbursement.
People also acknowledge that skiplagging is only possible because of the convoluted pricing system most airlines use. Rather than set flight rates according to fuel used, travel distance, time in the air, or any other factors customers deem logical, they use complex algorithms that assess demand for destinations.
While many businesses use dynamic pricing models, such as rideshares and event ticket platforms, people wonder how fair this is to the customer. Research on dynamic pricing has shown that it can positively affect welfare, meaning it can benefit companies and consumers. However, this research does not factor in competition, which makes the system infinitely more complicated and can result in airlines overselling tickets.
Aside from the morality of airline price gauging and skiplagging as a practice, people are also disturbed by how the airlines choose to handle skiplaggers. Detaining a minor or implying to the minor that they are detained is highly questionable on all fronts. Taking away someone's earned miles, canceling a ticket someone rightfully paid for, or banning someone from flying are all aggressive responses to skiplagging that leave a bad taste in consumers' mouths.
The Consequences and Future of Skiplagging
Skiplagging has been happening for years, but airlines are getting fed up and have promised to be more vigilant and strict concerning this practice. Does this mean the end of skiplagging? Probably not, as it is a difficult practice to monitor. Overly vigilant airlines may accuse passengers of skiplagging when they simply could not make their second flight, leading to a poor reputation and angry customers.
However, it is likely skiplagging will become more difficult, and the consequences will be more severe.
A United passenger supposedly skiplagged 38 times, resulting in United apparently charging them thousands of dollars. In 2020, American Airlines reportedly charged a passenger $2,500 for skiplagging 52 times.
Also in 2020, a passenger said they received a harsh email from American Airlines, informing them they were banned from the airline's frequent flyer program (AAdvantage) for skiplagging 95 flights, losing 50,000 loyalty points. The airline said they would reinstate the points and loyalty membership if the passenger paid the difference for all 95 flights, which would total nearly $10,000.
And, of course, the latest tale of the 17-year-old receiving a 3-year ban.
The consequences of skiplagging are mounting, but it will likely continue to happen until airlines create a dynamic pricing system that prevents these loopholes.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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