United and Orbitz Sue to Halt ‘Hidden City’ Booking

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) —

A 45-minute flight from San Diego to Los Angeles can get pretty pricey — about $350 for one-way economy seats on American Airlines.

But an unusual travel site can get you there for about $200 less. The catch is you must book a flight from San Diego to Las Vegas, with a stopover in Los Angeles. Instead of continuing on to Vegas, you simply step off the plane in Los Angeles.

It’s a troubling concept for United Airlines and Orbitz Worldwide, which have sued to stop the travel website Skiplagged.com from letting passengers use the money-saving tactic of booking “hidden city” destinations.

United and Orbitz accuse the site’s founder, Aktarer Zaman of New York, of “intentionally and maliciously” interfering with their operations and promoting “prohibited forms of travel,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago last week, said passengers who exit the plane before it reaches its final destination “adversely affect United’s ability to estimate head counts, which can not only cause disruptions at the airport gate, but can also require mechanical tweaks, such as variations in the amount of jet fuel needed for each flight.”

Orbitz sued because Skiplagged.com finds the fares and then directs travelers to book them on Orbitz, which has agreed not to book “hidden city” fares.

A representative for Skiplagged declined to comment.

Travel experts say there are drawbacks to booking through “hidden city” destinations. For example, the airline may not let you get your luggage until the plane reaches its final destination.

“If your airline prohibits this practice and you do it too blatantly, they may delete your frequent-flier account,” said George Hobica, founder of the travel site Airfarewatchdog.com. “Some airlines really don’t like being scammed.”

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