An Illinois judge dismissed a United Airlines lawsuit against a website that helps passengers find so-called hidden-city fares to exploit a loophole in the airfare system.
The suit against Skiplagged.com and its owner, 22-year-old programmer Aktarer Zaman, sparked debate about whether hidden-cities fare bookings are unethical or just savvy shopping.
Skiplagged helped users find flights with brief stopovers in a city that is their true destination. They simply abandon the rest of their flight. Such flights with stopovers are sometimes cheaper than direct flights to the same place.
The practice is forbidden by many airlines, including Chicago-based United Airlines.
In a ruling last week, Judge John Robert Blakely said the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois did not have jurisdiction to proceed with the case, filed Nov. 17, because Zaman, of New York City, doesn’t have strong enough personal ties to Illinois.
In Thursday’s ruling, he said that the dismissal doesn’t preclude United from refiling and litigating the claims “in a proper forum.”
In a statement, United noted that the judge’s decision “was a ruling on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the case.”
“We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carriage by purchasing hidden-city tickets, putting the validity of their ticket and MileagePlus status at risk,” the airline said.
A spokeswoman said the airline had no comment on whether it would refile the lawsuit against Skiplagged.
Hidden-cities tickets offer a less expensive flight for 26 percent of domestic routes searched by consumers, according to a report released Monday by flight-data company Hopper. It said the average hidden-city ticket saves $33, or about 21 percent, over buying the same direct flight, although some routes are discounted almost $200, or nearly 60 percent.
Consumers are most likely to find a hidden-city discount when flying to a major hub, Hopper found. And while almost all airlines use hidden-city pricing, 96 percent of domestic hidden-city discounts are offered by the network carriers, United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, as well as Alaska Airlines.
United filed the suit in conjunction with Orbitz Worldwide, also based in Chicago. Orbitz had said the practice put its contracts with airlines at risk.
Orbitz, however, settled the lawsuit this year after Skipplagged agreed not to redirect its traffic to Orbitz.com and other Orbitz websites. And Skiplagged agreed not to use Orbitz brands, logos, trademarks, images or other copyrighted materials on its site or mobile apps, according to a statement by Orbitz. Neither company admitted wrongdoing.
Zaman raised almost $80,000 for his lawsuit defense, using crowdfunding site gofundme.com.