I’ve written in the past about the concept of hidden city ticketing. Airline pricing is incredibly complex, so this is a practice whereby you book a ticket to a destination you don’t intend to travel to, in order to get a lower fare. There are websites, like Skiplagged, that even help you book tickets this way.
While this practice isn’t illegal, there are several risks to be aware of — it violates airline contracts of carriage (which you agree to when you book a ticket), and it can also get tricky if you end up with irregular operations, or have your bag gate checked. That brings us to a hidden city ticketing story that doesn’t have a happy ending, though personally I don’t think the airline is to blame.
Hidden city ticketing leads to interrogation
Queen City News has the story of how a teenager was flying by himself for the first time. He was intending to fly from Gainesville to Charlotte (his family lives in North Carolina), so his father booked the ticket for him.
However, his father booked him a ticket from Gainesville to Charlotte to New York, since it was significantly cheaper, and then he explained to his son that he should simply get off the plane in Charlotte, and end his journey there. Well, that didn’t go as planned.
When the teen went to check-in at Gainesville Airport, the check-in agent allegedly noticed his North Carolina driver’s license, and became suspicious about him being engaged in hidden city ticketing (I imagine there has to be something else that made the agent suspicious). According to the father, the teen was taken to a “security room,” where he was “interrogated” (I’m also confused about what kind of a “security room” an airline would have at a small regional airport).
The teen eventually admitted that he intended to terminate his journey in Charlotte. At that point the teen’s ticket was canceled, and he was forced to purchase a new ticket for the route he intended to fly. Furthermore, the teen has reportedly been banned from flying with American Airlines for three years.
The teen’s father states that his “concerns are he is a minor and was kind of left to fend for himself several states away.” The father now says he would have never put his son in this predicament if he knew this would happen.
The father also claims that for the past five to eight years, he has almost exclusively used hidden city ticketing for the family’s travels. He claims that he wasn’t aware that hidden city ticketing was frowned upon in the airline industry.
American Airlines has issued the following statement regarding this incident:
“Purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city ticketing) is a violation of American Airlines terms and conditions and is outlined in our Conditions of Carriage online. Our Customer Relations team has been in touch with the customer to learn more about their experience.”
The airline stated that it wasn’t aware of the teen being “detained,” and is now investigating that.
Below you can see the news clip about the incident.
The father needs to take accountability here
What’s my take on this situation? First of all, I feel bad for the teen here. Clearly he had no clue what kind of a situation he was put into, as he didn’t even book his own ticket. I’m sure this wasn’t a fun experience for him, so he’s the victim here, plain and simple.
That being said, the fault lies with his father, and not with American Airlines. The father says he has been using hidden city ticketing for all the family’s travels for the past five to eight years, but didn’t realize it violated airline rules? Did he ever once Google it? Did he ever read Skiplagged’s guide to hidden city ticketing, and how it’s something airlines frown down upon?
Personally I question if he’s telling the truth here. What did he tell his son before the flight about why his ticket was booked to New York? I’d be willing to bet he told him not to tell the American representatives that he wasn’t planning on completing the trip to the destination…
I’m a little bit confused about why the son even interacted with an American Airlines agent and had to show his ID? If you’re doing hidden city ticketing you can’t check bags, wouldn’t you just check-in online?
It’s unfortunate that this happened on the son’s first-ever solo trip, but the father shouldn’t have gotten him into this situation. It’s a bit rich to then blame the airline, and say the son should have just gotten a warning, when the father admits he has been using this practice for up to eight years. I mean, heck, the father has taken this story to the media, even though he’s the one to blame, in my opinion.
Now, in fairness to the family, I am a bit confused by the claim that the son was “interrogated” in a “security room.” The story almost makes this sound like an FBI interrogation. Gainesville Airport is tiny, so did an American agent just maybe ask him to step aside so they could talk to him, or how intimidating was this “interrogation?” It doesn’t sound like police was involved, or anything, or that the teen was detained.
In fairness to the father and son, though, airlines have created the monster of hidden city ticketing due to their unnecessarily complicated pricing structures.
A teen got caught engaging in hidden city ticketing at Gainesville Airport while flying with American Airlines. The unfortunate part of the story is that it was the teen’s first trip alone, and his dad booked the ticket, and got him into this situation.
This was no doubt uncomfortable for the teen, but the dad shouldn’t have booked the ticket this way if he was so concerned about something going wrong with his teen son’s first solo trip.
What do you make of this hidden city ticketing situation?