Lufthansa sues passenger for missing their return flight

The German national airline, Lufthansa, is seeking legal action against a customer who did not travel on the final leg of their flight.

The airline believes the passenger exploited a commonly used loophole known as ‘skiplagging’; purchasing a cheaper ticket through its multi-trip fares system with no intention of flying on the last leg.

An initial court case came down in the passenger’s favour in December 2016, but Lufthansa has now been granted permission to appeal the decision and continue to pursue payment from the unnamed traveller.

The passenger is said to have booked a ticket from Seattle to Frankfurt and then on to Oslo, but he failed to board the connecting flight to Oslo and boarded a plane to Berlin on a separate ticket instead.

An increasing number of passengers are taking advantage of this travel hack, using sites like Skiplagged to uncover cheaper hidden fares. On the homepage it reads “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us… but we won,” in reference to a 2015 court case.

Lufthansa are pursuing legal action against a passenger

Lufthansa is pursuing legal action against a passenger

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A number of airlines, including Lufthansa, have it written in their terms and conditions that by purchasing a ticket you agree to complete the entire journey. By deliberately ignoring this, a passenger is in breach of terms and conditions and may be asked to pay the listed price of the journey they ended up taking.

As it stands, this issue is not regulated and so passengers are not covered by any consumer rights legislation.

The root of the case is that some airlines, including Lufthansa and British Airways, have pricing strategies that put a premium price tag on non-stop flights. For example, in a test booking by Telegraph Travel, a one-way flight from Sofia to Warsaw on May 18th is on sale from £164. If a passenger books a flight from Sofia to Warsaw with an ongoing connection to Paris, however, they will pay £113.

While this tariff hack may appear like a fool-proof way of saving money, there are some ways that it could backfire.

The most common mistake passengers make is to deliberately miss the first flight, and in doing so accidentally cancel the entire itinerary. If a passenger does not show up for the first leg of a flight (say, on a trip from Amsterdam–London–Dubai, which is listed at a cheaper price than London–Dubai) the airline may automatically cancel the booking, which cannot later be reinstated. In this case, a customer must buy a new ticket.

In some cases, passengers are caught out by this automated process without deliberately ‘skiplagging’ or trying to find a cheaper fare. In a letter recently received by Telegraph Travel, a customer with return flights booked from London Heathrow to Almeria in southeast Spain needed to travel sooner than originally planned and found it was cheaper to book a new one-way ticket with a low-cost airline than amend his existing booking. At the end of the trip, when he went to check in to his original return flight, he found that it had been automatically cancelled without any communication from the airline.

There are other pitfalls for so-called ‘skiplaggers’. Passengers deliberately using the hidden ticket tactic will only be able to travel with carry-on luggage; if you check in a bag, it will have the final destination on the tag. There is also the danger that your carry-on bag could be placed in the hold because there is no space in the overhead compartments. In this instance, your carry-on bag will automatically complete the full journey.

Airlines disapprove of skiplagging because no-show passengers can cause flight delays, the practice reduces revenue, and it is considered to be bad for the environment as it means more empty seats on planes. There is also the possibility that airlines will end up having to increase ticket prices to account for the lost revenue, punishing those who have followed the rules.

However, there is a legal precedent in favour of passengers seeking to expose this loophole. In November last year, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that skiplagging is legal after the national carrier Iberia tried, and failed, to prohibit passengers from penalizing customers for the practice.

Is ‘skiplagging’ savvy or selfish? Have you ever done it yourself? We want to hear your thoughts; comment below to join the conversation.

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