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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

On the move: should 'skiplagging' be fair game?

Is 'point beyond ticketing' unethical or does it fall within the consumer rights of air passengers?

Is it ethical to leave other passengers waiting for you to board when you book a skiplag fare? Courtesy Pixabay / Jiahuih
Is it ethical to leave other passengers waiting for you to board when you book a skiplag fare? Courtesy Pixabay / Jiahuih

This year, German airline Lufthansa said it would sue a passenger for flying on one of its planes. OK, perhaps that’s not exactly how the situation was presented, but from one point of view, that’s certainly how it appeared.

The airline claimed that a passenger booked a flight from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt with no intention of travelling on the last leg of the journey. Instead, they reportedly took a separately booked flight from Frankfurt to Berlin.

Commonly referred to as skiplagging, this trick is often used by customers trying to save on an airfare by booking a ticket that goes beyond the destination they actually want to go to, but has a stopover in said destination. Passengers then disembark there, rather than taking the final part of the flight.

For example, if it’s London Fashion Week, flights to London are presumably going to be quite expensive. Yet flights to Edinburgh, via London, not so much. To skiplag successfully, you book a flight to Edinburgh, but end your journey in London. Unfortunately this seems to annoy airlines.

In fact, in 2015, United Airlines tried to sue the owner of skiplagged.com, the first platform to bring this practice into the public eye. The judge threw the case out and the start-up website capitalised on the free news coverage, amassing a fan base of more than a million visitors.

What is skiplagging?

To skiplag, there are a few rules. Firstly, it only works on one-way flights. ­Secondly, you can’t tell anyone at the airport or the airline that you plan to skip a leg. And you can’t check in luggage – it will go to the final destination on your ticket. ­Finally, once you’ve missed a flight, the rest of the reservation is cancelled automatically.

There are a few disciplinary ­methods airlines can invoke if you’re deemed to be skiplagging. Most frequent-flyer accounts have a clause in the terms and conditions that states the airline can shut down your account at its discretion, so you may lose frequent-flyer points or miles. You could also be blacklisted from flying with an airline.

But is it ethical?

Controversy exists as to whether or not travellers who use skiplagging as a tactic are simply playing the system, or being unethical. In my opinion, you can’t really blame people for using money-­saving tactics. You could even go so far as to say that skip­laggers are simply doing their bit to help airlines understand how inefficient their incredibly complex pricing structures are.

Let’s consider for a moment the airline’s point of view. If I buy a flight from Abu Dhabi to Auckland, then stop my journey in Melbourne, I’m breaching the terms of our agreement. And that is unethical. But how unethical it is in comparison to some of the moves that airlines play is debatable. For instance, bigger airlines often try to retain a monopoly on a specific destination by undercutting fares whenever a new business comes on to the market. Once the start-up folds, prices are hiked back up.

Rather than denting airline profit margins, my personal ethical concern when it comes to skiplagging is that, if you decide to do it, there’s a good chance you’ll force 300 other passengers to be delayed on the tarmac as the airline issues a series of final calls encouraging you to board. There’s also the issue that if the flight you have booked is full, you’ve taken a seat from someone who could have used it.

For me, it’s a bit of a stalemate. While I don’t want to hold up other travellers, I also don’t want to pay double for my flight simply because one airline has a monopoly on the city I want to visit. I think that as long as passengers try alternative fare-saving methods first, and as long as it’s not something you do every time you travel, booking the occasional skiplag fare is forgiveable. And I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m on the tarmac waiting for that no-show passenger.

Updated: February 22, 2019 12:21 PM

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