A lawsuit, drawn and filed by United Airlines in November against 22-year-old Aktarer Zaman, shows to what lengths airlines will go to keep hidden city ticketing unavailable to the general public. Joining United Airlines in the suit against the computer whiz is the online travel company Orbitz. Both companies have come together to sue Zaman for setting up the website Skiplagged.com last year which offered cheaper airfares than the airlines and other competitors.
The fairly new site focuses on aiding travelers secure cheaper fares through a technique dubbed “hidden city” ticketing. The concept of this strategy involves the consumer purchasing a plane ticket that has a layover stop in the city they are traveling to. If the traveler wanted to fly from Miami to Washington D.C., essentially the customer could purchase a ticket from Miami to New York with a layover in D.C. and disembark the plane at that point.
There are certain restrictions in order for the technique to work. The traveler would have to book their flight as one-way with no checked baggage. The luggage would ultimately continue on to New York instead of remaining in D.C. While not guaranteed to always provide the cheapest rates, more often than not, travelers are able to save countless dollars lost in the bureaucratic process.
Orbitz and United Airlines both labeled the website Skiplagged as unfair competition. The companies have alleged that the website is promoting a methodology of traveling that is barred. The companies are seeking $75,000 in damages from Zaman.
The young entrepreneur anticipated a lawsuit for the practice of hidden city ticketing but he did not expect to draw the ire of Orbitz or United Airlines. He made a point to mention that nothing about his site’s activities and practices were illegal. He acknowledged that he did not reap any profits from the site and only assisted travelers in getting bargain ticket prices using a loophole in the airline industry.
According to Zaman, the airline industry was aware of the loophole for decades and exploited the exposed inefficiency of the practice. He told CNN Money that the practice existed for quite some time but was not readily accessible to everyday consumers.
President of Boyd Group International, Michael Boyd, agreed that frequent fliers were knowledgeable of hidden city ticketing. Boyd previously worked as a ticket agent for American Airlines 30 years ago. He admitted to being trained by the airline to help customers get good deals using the hidden city fares. According to Boyd, Zaman’s practice was not illegal but the accompanying lawsuit from the two billion dollar companies could swallow up the young entrepreneur in costly litigation.
Zaman was born in Bangladesh and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated at 20-years-old from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor’s in computer science. He currently resides in Manhattan and is employed by a start-up company he refused to name. Skiplagged, according to Zaman, was just a side project that grew legs.
Orbitz commented on the lawsuit drawn against Zaman stating that it had an obligation to uphold all airline fare rules including that of United Airlines. A spokesman for the airline stated that the site violated their fare rules and they are taking actions to bring the practice to a halt. Travel experts have voiced their skepticism in United Airlines’ tactics stating that if they were successful in shutting down the website in an age where information is widely available, other individuals would just pick up where Zaman left off and “make them available” said the president of R.W. Mann & Company, Robert Mann.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Anthony Dolce – Flickr License