Notorious litigator Southwest Airlines is targeting a sometimes-legally agile Skiplagged. Instead of offering Southwest fare information for hidden-city flights, Skiplagged may find that those Southwest fares have gone missing.
Skiplagged, which helps travelers find “hidden city” flight itineraries and has generated airline wrath over the years, filed a complaint seeking to have a court declare it is not subject to Southwest Airlines’ terms and conditions.
Using hidden city tickets, flyers can book a flight from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago, deplane in Chicago, and save money because one-stop flights can often be cheaper than direct flights. Although doing so is legal, the airlines hate these schemes because they lose revenue and fly with empty seats.
In the complaint for a declaratory judgment [embedded below], filed Friday in the Southern District of New York, Skiplagged said Southwest sent it “threatening communications” in June claiming “Skiplagged has violated federal law.”
Specifically, according to Skiplagged, the eight-year-old New York-based business, Southwest argued that Skiplagged must adhere to Southwest.com’s terms and conditions, and is violating them by web-scraping Southwest.com and publishing the airline’s flight schedules, and fare information, and by using Southwest’s heart logo.
In the court filing, Skiplagged said it doesn’t obtain Southwest’s flight information from Southwest.com, and therefore is not subject to the airline’s terms and conditions. Skiplagged did not specify its source for Southwest fare information.
“On June 21, 2021, Skiplagged advised Southwest in writing that Skiplagged did not ‘scrape’ any data from Southwest.com or obtain data from Southwest’s application programming interface, had ceased displaying any ‘heart logo’ for Southwest flights, and did not sell ‘hidden-city’ flights on Southwest airlines,” the court filing stated.
In fact, Skiplagged displays hidden city itineraries that include Southwest flights, and directs users to Kiwi.com to book them.
Southwest is engaged in ongoing litigation against Kiwi.com, and has been trying to get Kiwi from displaying and booking Southwest fares since 2018. Among its allegations, Southwest claims that Kiwi charges its customers fees for things that are free on Southwest’s channels.
Kiwi denies Southwest’s claims, and argues that it has not breached any enforceable contract with the airline.
The Skiplagged complaint asks the court to declare that “Skiplagged is not bound by the Southwest terms and conditions,” has not interfered in the airline’s contractual relations, and has not encouraged others to do so.
Founded by Aktarer Zaman in 2013 as a side gig, Skiplagged cautions travelers to avoid checking bags because they will likely get off the plane during the layover, and not to use their frequent flyer numbers or use hidden city tickets too often because airlines could cancel their tickets or boot them from loyalty programs.
Several years ago, both United Airlines and Orbitz sued Skiplagged, which settled with Orbitz and emerged unscathed.
Representatives from Skiplagged, Southwest, and Kiwi.com did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Southwest Airlines has at least a two decade track record of successfully suing online travel websites and forcing them to cease displaying Southwest fare information or using its intellectual property.
The airline offers its fare information to global distribution systems for travel agency use, and has deals with corporate booking tools and travel management companies, but shuns displaying its flight information to vacationers anywhere but on Southwest.com.
Here is the Skiplagged complaint:
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Photo Credit: Skiplagged has drawn the wrath of Southwest Airlines for displaying the airline's flight information. Pictured is Southwest 50th Birthday baggage claim activation in Dallas, Texas on June 18, 2021. Brianna Juda / Southwest Airlines