A travelling teenager has been detained at a US airport after attempting a controversial travel hack known as “hidden city ticketing” or — more catchily — as “skiplagging”.
Travel hacks are one of holidaying’s best developments in recent memory. From hacks that will help you travel for free, get a free lunch, or the more unethical hack for beating ‘recline rage’, all of them are interesting but some are more successful than others. This week, an American teen has experienced the sting of a travel hack gone wrong after trying one of travel’s latest trends — “skiplagging” — with little success and hefty consequences…
The incident occurred when Hunter Parsons’ son — who was travelling from Gainesville, Florida to New York City with a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina — decided to disembark his plane in Charlotte instead of continuing to his final destination. This move, however, was noticed by airport authorities and the boy was swiftly stopped in his tracks. But what exactly is “skiplagging” and why is it so controversial?
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“Hidden city ticketing” — also referred to as “point beyond ticketing” or “skiplagging” — refers to flyers deliberately booking a whole flight but knowingly disembarking at the layover destination, as this process can often be considerably cheaper than buying a ticket direct to the intended destination. While the practice is frowned upon by airlines — who rue an unnecessarily empty seat that could be making them big money — Parsons claims that his family have used Skip Lagged, a site specifically designed to facilitate the practice, for several years without any issues.
However, on this particular occasion, things took an unexpected turn at the Florida airport: As reported by Fox News, Parson’s son was greeted with scepticism from a gate attendant after presenting his North Carolina driver’s license as proof of his final destination. The teenager was immediately subject to questioning and quickly taken to a private security room for further interrogation. As the boy’s father summarised in a recent interview:
“They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disembark in Charlotte and not continue to the connecting flight.”Hunter Parsons
As a result, an American Airlines representative reportedly cancelled the ticket and demanded the family purchase a new direct ticket to North Carolina at full cost. Aviation attorney Bruce Brandon weighed in on the issue, suggesting that this request from the airline was, in short, a little over the top…
“It’s the first time he’s flown, and he really doesn’t know what he is doing. I just don’t understand why [American Airlines] would do this… Was it a security issue or was it a contract issue? Was he held against his will in that back room?”Bruce Brandon
Predictably, American Airlines and their very expensive lawyers were quick to clap back with a statement that highlighted how purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights included on that ticket is, unfortunately, a full-blown violation of their pretty comprehensive terms and conditions. However, in an effort to appear a little softer and customer-oriented than the litigious statement might suggest, the airline also emphaisied their ongoing communication with the Parson’s family and attempts to amicably resolve the situation, as noted by The Independent.
In the interest of keeping things fair, it’s worth noting that other major airlines have very similar policies on skiplagging; American Airlines simply seems to be the first that has been called out for cracking down on the practice. Delta and United also prohibit skiplagging, and even Skip Lagged — the website specifically designed to promote the tactic and used by the Parsons family — warns travellers of potential consequences, which stretch beyond an embarrassing interrogation to include checked luggage being sent to the final destination or the loss of accrued frequent flyer miles.
The family’s attorney pointed to previous cases where airlines have attempted to crack down on skiplagging — citing a lawsuit brought by German carrier Lufthansa against a passenger — which was later dropped. Hunter Parsons admits his son deserves a stern telling-off, but that putting a minor in such an intense situation raised concerns for him and his family. American Airlines stated that they were unaware of the teenager’s detainment in Florida.
In this timely clash between a daring travel hack and an airline’s rulebook, Parsons Jr. found himself quickly grounded but— as the controversial practice shows no sign of slowing its booming popularity — this is likely to be a turbulent issue for many months to come.