The founder of a US cheap flights website is being sued by United Airlines and Orbitz.
Aktarer Zaman’s site Skiplagged.com claims that it is “better at finding cheap flights than any other website”.
It specialises in finding indirect one-way flights that have a stopover at the place the traveller actually wants to go to. Users travel on the first leg of the journey, get off at the stopover destination and skip the second leg.
But United and Orbitz are suing for lost business, arguing that “hidden-city” ticketing is prohibited by their terms of service and is harming their business.
United claims Skiplagged.com is causing the airline increased operating costs, owing to scheduling disruptions and loss of revenues from prospective passengers who would otherwise have bought seats on the “skipped” legs of journeys.
United also alleges that Mr Zaman’s conduct is the cause of “logistical and public safety concerns”, making it difficult for the airline to adhere to regulations that require it to ensure “predictable passenger headcounts” and causing delays if the airline holds a connecting flight for passengers who have no intention of boarding.
“Delays on one leg of a flight can impact subsequent legs of a flight, or subsequent flights flown by the same aeroplane, with the potential for considerable disruption of United’s flight schedule and harm to United’s other customers,” according to the lawsuit, which has been filed in the US district court, northern district of Illinois eastern division.
It adds that hidden-city ticketing can require the airline to make “mechanical tweaks, such as variations in the amount of jet fuel needed for each flight”.
The suit, which acknowledges that “United lacks an adequate remedy at law” for Zaman’s activities, serves to highlight an area of frustration and bafflement for flyers, where airline booking practices often mean that longer indirect flights are cheaper than shorter flights with no stopover, The Times reporred.
United’s website was yesterday pricing a one-way direct flight on January 15 from New York JFK to San Francisco international airport at $196 to $301.
Skiplagged.com showed an indirect flight on the same day from JFK to Los Angeles, with a stopover at San Francisco at $128.
Zaman maintains that he has not made a profit from the website and has only exposed a loophole that has been around for years.
Skiplagged’s sole purpose was to help flyers become “savvy travellers” and to “expose pricing inefficiencies for air travel”, he said, in a statement posted to the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, where he has set up a legal defence fund that has raised more than $43,000.