In this crazy world of travel, there's perhaps nothing more controversial than hidden-city ticketing.
Popularized by websites like Skiplagged, it works like this: You need to get from Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO), but tickets are expensive. Yet flights from EWR to Los Angeles (LAX) are much cheaper if you take a layover in SFO. But rather than boarding that second plane to LAX, you just leave the airport at SFO and skip the second segment altogether.
After trying (and failing) to sue Skiplagged years ago, United is taking its battle against no-show flyers to the front lines. The Chicago-based airline has asked its airport agents to watch for and cite suspected hidden-city flyers to its security department, according to an internal memo obtained by The Skift.
A United spokesman told the outlet that the airline sent the memo “to provide a reminder to our employees about how to address issues that arise when customers purchase hidden-city tickets and travel with checked baggage.”
“It is against our ticketing policies to purchase an additional segment with no intention to fly,” the spokesman said.
Just what might happen to United passengers who get cited remains unclear, but it shows the airline's patience is wearing thin with the throwaway ticketing ploy.
Airlines hate this practice, but they have typically reserved punishment for frequent and repeat offenders, resorting to imposing flying bans or freezing a frequent flyer account. Those cases are few and far between.
Earlier this year, Lufthansa sued a passenger for $2,385 after he skipped a segment on an itinerary to save money.
That's an extreme example. Regardless, hidden city ticketing carries risks. Airlines have gotten wise to this maneuver and have employed ways to track repeat offenders. Simply put: There are better, safer ways to get a good flight deal than hidden city ticketing.
In almost every country, if you skip a segment of your flight, the rest of that itinerary is automatically canceled. And it should go without saying that you shouldn’t check a bag if you plan to take one of these flights.
Passenger rights organizations argue that the issue is not the violation of a contract, as the airlines claim. Rather, they say airlines' confusing pricing is the heart of the problem.
“They have created this airfare mess and have to live with it,” Charlie Leocha, president of the consumer rights group Travelers United, told the Skift. “The more that passengers get away with the hidden city bookings, the better, as far as I’m concerned.”
Airlines have gotten wise to these tactics. And while the debate rages on about the legality of hidden-city ticketing, it's clear United is taking things a step farther to stop passengers.