Cheap Fare Finder Draws Suit From Airline

     CHICAGO (CN) – United Airlines and Orbitz brought a trademark action against Skiplagged.com, a website that reduces flight costs by turning layovers into final destinations.
     Skiplagged allows consumers to book a ticket based on the city where a connecting flight departs. This way, passengers can leave the airport at the connecting city, “skipping” the last leg of their itineraries.
     “In its simplest form, a passenger purchases a ticket from City A to City B to City C, but does not travel beyond City B,” the federal complaint filed Monday states.
     This method of booking, known as “hidden city” ticketing, can save a passenger a lot of money. For example, a ticket from Chicago to Doha, Qatar, in December that connects through Amsterdam is half the price of a ticket directly to Amsterdam.
     Since airlines cannot sell unused seats on the final leg of the flight, however, they can find such bookings problematic.
     United Airlines and Orbitz say Skiplagged serves “to intentionally and maliciously interfere with plaintiffs’ contracts and business relations in the airline industry, and in doing so, has falsely associated Skiplagged with Orbitz and United.”
     Most commercial airlines “strictly” prohibit “hidden city” ticketing “because of logistical and public safety concerns,” the 35-page complaint states.
     “When consumers purchase a flight through United, they agree to be bound by United’s prohibition against ‘hidden city’ ticketing,” Orbitz and United say.
     Claiming that Aktarer Zaman, the New York-based founder of Skiplagged, entered an affiliate agreement with Orbitz in 2013, the plaintiffs say he expressly agreed not to permit hidden-city ticketing.
     Now he is allegedly ignoring direct requests from both Orbitz and United to stop linking customers to their websites.
     “The process that Zaman uses to promote ‘hidden city’ ticketing and prompt purchases of ‘hidden city’ tickets constitutes a deliberate attack on plaintiffs’ trademark rights,” the complaint says. “These deliberately false associations that Zaman has created between Skiplagged and plaintiffs threaten to confuse consumers, deceive the public, and damage plaintiffs’ businesses.”
     Orbitz and United seek damages for unfair competition, tortious interference, breach of contract and misappropriation.
     They are represented by John Letchinger with Baker & Hostetler.

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