Southwest Takes Legal Action Over Flight Search Engines

Southwest is currently in legal battles with two skiplagging search engines. After the low-cost giant sued Kiwi.com in January, Skiplagged filed a preemptory case against the airline to make its case. Southwest is unique in that it does not advertise its fares on engines like Google Flights or Expedia, instead almost solely using its own website for bookings.

Southwest MAX 8
Southwest is unhappy with websites using their portal to book tickets with the airline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Battle

Everyone familiar with Southwest Airlines knows one reality about the airline, there’s almost only one place to buy tickets: southwest.com. The carrier has made it clear that it would like to control the customer booking experience and ensure that it is not paying fees to any external service providers, saving millions a year.

However, there are some websites that sell Southwest tickets, even without explicit authorization. In January, the airline sued Kiwi.com, a Czech airline aggregator and booking site, stating that it violated Southwest’s terms and conditions by selling tickets without written permission.

Southwest Takes Legal Action Over Flight Search Engines
Kiwi.com allows passengers to compare flights and booking directly online, even checking you in for your flight if you wish. Photo: Kiwi.com

Both sides have argued their case in court and in public statements. According to Business Insider, Southwest said in its original complaint,

“Kiwi knowingly and intentionally targets the Southwest website to harvest Southwest’s fare and pricing information for its own commercial benefit and without Southwest’s authorization.”

However, Kiwi.com has been quick to respond with its own argument, with a spokesperson saying,

“Southwest makes its flight and fare data publicly available to the entire internet, and it cannot legitimately prevent fare competition and price comparisons through enforcement of its browsewrap terms of use, to which Kiwi.com never agreed in any event.”

Twist

Sensing possible jeopardy if Kiwi.com lost the case, travel website Skiplagged launched its own legal challenge. The website filed a peremptory challenge against Southwest in New York, hoping that the judge will rule that Skiplagged does not violate the airline’s booking policies.

Notably, Skiplagged makes a different argument from Kiwi. Instead of advocating for open access to fares, the booking engine says in its complaint,

“Skiplagged does not access Southwest.com or use the Southwest API to obtain data published on Skiplagged.com and is not bound by the Southwest terms and conditions.”

Southwest Takes Legal Action Over Flight Search Engines
While fares on Southwests’ website might even be cheaper than Kiwi.com or Skiplagged (such as in this case), there is no way to compare prices directly. Photo: Southwest.com

The decision to file a case comes after a series of letters between Southwest and the booking website earlier in the year. The airline reportedly also said that Skiplagged “inducing Kiwi.com to breach Southwest’s website” by offering links to its own site.

Interestingly, Skiplagged did not say where it gets its fare information from. This is unique since Southwest is strict in who can sell its tickets, with web scraping being the most used tool for data.

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Important

The outcome of both cases will be important for Southwest. Were it to lose the Kiwi.com challenge, it would open the floodgates to aggregators around the world to list its flights and sell tickets. A victory would ensure that it can continue operating smoothly and act as a warning to other sites that many try Kiwi’s tactics.

Southwest Airlines, Profit, 737 MAX
The ruling will impact Southwests’ future ticketing practices and could result in a huge change. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The Skiplagged case holds other ramifications. Considering Skiplagged won a popular case against United in 2014, all eyes will be on the site to see if it can beat Southwest too. Moreover, the case might reveal where the site gets its fare data, allowing others to follow suit. However, for now, keep an eye out on both these developing legal cases.

What do you think about Southwests’ website-only policy? Let us know in the comments!

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