Czech based travel agency Kiwi.com have taken a stand against airlines who try to punish skiplaggers. In an email sent to customers this week, they have said they will provide assistance, including paying legal fees if a carrier attempts to sue.
Also known as hidden city ticketing, skiplagging is something seasoned travellers all over the world take advantage of all the time. The basic principle is that you book a flight which goes from A to B to C, but disembark at B, thereby securing a lower price for the trip.
This act of deliberately missing connections is frowned upon by carriers. Naturally, they want you to pay as much as possible for your flight, and view this as an underhand means of uncovering discounts. Many airlines have already said that it ‘breaches the contract of carriage’, although none have yet successfully made a claim against a skiplagging passenger.
Today, there’s a little bit less to worry about if you’re in the habit of skiplagging, as a Czech based travel agent is promising to look after you if you end up in hot water.
Innovative travel agency Kiwi.com have announced that they will provide support and assistance to any passenger who has a threat of legal action made against them in regards to skiplagging. That is, as long as you booked your travel through their website of course.
Their CEO, Oliver Dlouhý, is quoted as saying:
“At Kiwi.com we want to make travel better for everyone. We want to make it clear that we will always stay on the side of our customers in relation to predatory behaviour while making sure they always have access to the best deals.”
Their Legal Officer, David Liškutin alluded to Kiwi’s ‘liberal point of view’, saying that,
“Our customers are always at the front of our minds — even if it means helping them in the legal area in cases such as these.”
He went on to say that the travel industry is ‘broken’, and that Kiwi want to be part of the solution.
“We have you covered if an airline tries to sue you”
It’s not very often you get a subject heading on an email like this, but that’s exactly what customers of kiwi.com received in their inbox this week. An excerpt of the email body reads:
With the recent news that airlines are continuing to sue their own customers, we’re extending our protection. Now, if you book an itinerary with Kiwi.com and an airline unreasonably decides you’re in breach, we’ll reimburse the amount claimed back, your legal costs, or provide assistance.
We will provide You with the below-specified assistance in situations when a legal claim is brought against You by the Selected Carrier in relation to Your Booking due to the alleged breach of the Selected Carrier’s contractual clauses which are considered as unbalanced, disproportionate and/or abusive. These conditions include, among others, the practices commonly known as “throw-away”, “back to back” and “hidden city” ticketing. We believe that these and similar contractual clauses are disproportionate and thus shall not enjoy legal protection.
In case the Selected Carrier brings a lawsuit against You claiming a breach of these contractual clauses, We will:
(1) Reimburse You the costs of Your legal expenses related to such legal proceedings; or
(2) Assist You in the legal proceedings and provide You with the aid of Our legal advisors who are experienced with claims of this nature; or
(3) Reimburse You the amount claimed by the Selected Carrier in relation to the alleged breach of its contractual clauses.
The choice of the appropriate and most suitable method and scope of Our assistance will be done upon Our discretion following a previous consultation with You.
They have also released a statement on their website, which reads:
“Kiwi.com has announced it will provide assistance in case legal action is taken against its customers for alleged breach of unreasonable terms of the airlines, namely so called throwaway ticketing and similar practices.
“The contract of carriage that airlines use may often be confusing — and can lead to legal consequences that are unreasonable.
“If a customer travelling with tickets bought through Kiwi.com finds themselves on the receiving end of such unreasonable actions, the company will offer assistance to its customers in such lawsuits and, if reasonable for the solution of the case after prior agreement with Kiwi.com, also cover legal fees.”
Kiwi.com are something of an intrepid travel agency already, with various perks for travellers booking with them not offered by many other services. It’s a bold move to offer to cover legal fees, particularly if we’re talking about massive players like United who probably already have some of the best lawyers on their team.
Would an airline really sue you?
You might think that hidden city ticketing is just passengers being savvy and not really something airlines would be that bothered with. After all, many of us already indulge in split ticketing on railways, so what’s the difference?
Well, it seems to the airlines at least, there’s a big difference. Just a few weeks ago, Lufthansa were revealed to be attempting to sue a passenger who bagged a cheaper flight through skiplagging. The traveller had taken a business class ticket from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt for around $725. On their return trip, they hopped off at Frankfurt and took a separate flight to Berlin from there.
Lufthansa claim this trip should have cost him over $3,000 and are demanding that he pays the difference plus interest. The lawsuit was thrown out of court, but not because airlines can’t punish skiplaggers. The reason it failed was down to miscalculations by Lufthansa, setting a precedent which is a cause for concern for any fan of hidden city ticketing.
Lufthansa aren’t the only airline looking to put a stop to skiplagging either. United Airlines found one passenger had undertaken 38 instances of skiplagging, and sent them a letter demanding they pay several thousand dollars as a result. They even threatened to refer the person to a debt collection agency, which could have a major impact on the person’s credit rating.
Interestingly, however, Iberia have been told under no circumstances can they punish a passenger for skiplagging. The Spanish supreme court ruled that the activity is completely legal, although this only applies to the national flag carrier.
Either way, with no hard and fast rules on the legality of skiplagging it’s a risky business to get involved in right now.
Promising to pay legal fees is an interesting concept, but whether it will hold up remains to be seen. Also, if you do get caught skiplagging, there are other ways for carriers to punish you such as taking away your frequent flyer account. As this isn’t a lawsuit, we assume it wouldn’t leverage any assistance from Kiwi.com.
What do you think about the Kiwi offer? A generous move or a big PR stunt? Let us know in the comments.