Why Lufthansa Is Taking a Passenger to Court

Feb 12, 2019

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Lufthansa, one of the world’s largest airlines, is going after a passenger who it says engaged in hidden-city ticketing, CNN reports. According to the airline, a passenger booked a round-trip flight from Oslo (OSL) to Seattle (SEA) with a stop in Frankfurt (FRA). While the passenger took the outbound leg from Oslo via Frankfurt eventually arriving in Seattle, Lufthansa alleges that the passenger intentionally missed their return flight and instead booked another flight, with the final destination set as Berlin (TXL). Lufthansa is now pursuing legal action, claiming the passenger intentionally engaged in the practice known as hidden-city ticketing to save money on airfare.

Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
The departures board at Frankfurt Airport (Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)

What is Hidden-City Ticketing?

Hidden-city ticketing is the practice of booking an itinerary on an airline or airlines in which the passenger does not intend to fly on every leg of the itinerary. Why would a passenger book a ticket and not complete the itinerary? In some cases, the most direct itinerary or a one-way ticket cost more than a less direct itinerary (i.e. an itinerary that terminates in a different city) or round-trip ticket. Below is an actual example of hidden-city ticketing:

  • Let’s say a passenger is booking a one-way ticket from St. Louis, MO (STL) to Miami (MIA)
  • The cost of a one-way nonstop flight from STL to MIA is $552
  • The cost of a one-way one-stop flight from STL to Nassau, Bahamas (NAS) is $290
  • That one-stop flight stops in Miami
  • So, that passenger could spend $552 or $290 to fly on a nonstop flight from St. Louis to Miami, assuming that passenger skips the last leg of the itinerary to Nassau.

For travelers looking to save money on airfare, hidden city ticketing is quite convenient. There are numerous examples of itineraries where a traveler can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by booking hidden-city tickets. One hidden-city ticket enthusiast went on to create Skiplagged, a popular booking site through which travelers can book hidden-city fares. The founder of Skiplagged would eventually end up in court after United pursued legal action claiming that the practice violated the airline’s contract of carriage. That lawsuit was thrown out for jurisdictional reasons.

In the case of the Lufthansa passenger who now faces the airline in court, the unnamed person’s itinerary looked like this:

  • The passenger was searching for flights from Oslo (OSL) to Seattle (SEA) and from Seattle to Berlin (TXL)
  • The cost of a round-trip flight from Oslo (OSL) to Seattle (SEA) was less expensive than a multi-city ticket from Oslo to Seattle and then to Berlin
  • The passenger booked a round-trip flight between Oslo and Seattle via Frankfurt but only flew the outbound leg  and the first leg of the return leg
  • The passenger then booked a separate ticket from Frankfurt to Berlin

Lufthansa alleges that the unnamed passenger violated the airline’s contract of carriage by not completing the entire round-trip itinerary. The airline was initially seeking to collect €2,112 (~$2,385) in compensation. However, in December a district court threw the case out. Now, Lufthansa has appealed the court’s December decision. Neither the passenger nor the airline have made a statement concerning the case.

This story has made headlines throughout Europe and North America with major media publications and sources picking up the story. Readers have reached out to TPG to share their own stories involving actions taken by an airline after claims they engaged in hidden-city ticketing. Look for a story Wednesday on what airlines are doing against what they deem an illegitimate practice.

Featured image by Chiara Puzzo/AFP/Getty Images

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