A teen traveling solo for the first time from Gainesville, Florida to Charlotte was taken to a security room by American Airlines. There he was interrogated – and forced to buy a new ticket – according to the boy’s father.
That’s all because when he checked in at the ticket counter, the agent saw his North Carolina drivers license, and suspect that the reservation which included a flight from Charlotte to New York was really a throwaway or ‘hidden city’ ticket. In other words, the boy was traveling to Charlotte but had booked a point beyond – in this case, New York, because it was cheaper. And they had no intention of flying all of the segments they’d booked.
The boy’s father said he booked the ticket using Skiplagged, which helps find such throwaway options, but he didn’t know that airlines frowned on this. The dad always books with Skiplagged, and has for years, but the child had never even traveled alone before. The boy was on his own and confessed.
“Interrogated a little bit, ultimately taken to a security room,” added Hunter Parsons. “They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight.”
…An American Airlines representative canceled the ticket and made the family purchase a new direct flight ticket.
Throwaway ticketing is a practice that’s gone on for decades. Airlines often charge more money for non-stops than they do for connecting itineraries. So people book a flight with a connection through the city they want to travel to, and just don’t take that second connecting flight. As a result, they can often save money, but there are risks.
It is not illegal to engage in throwaway ticketing. It violates airline rules. And people disagree with the ethics. You ‘agree’ to the airline’s contract, with terms you likely do not know about, when you buy the ticket. Is it unethical to violate an adhesion contract, with whatever airlines decide to throw in there? You’re buying seats on two flights, isn’t it up to you whether to use those seats or not? To the airlines, though, a trip between Gainesville and New York is different than a trip from Gainesville and Charlotte and comes with different pricing. Flying to Charlotte instead of New York, at a cheaper price, is stealing.
More important than the ethics for many are the risks. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, your airline may want to re-route you through a different hub than the city you actually wanted to fly to (and get off in). You can’t check bags, because those will go to your final ticketed destination rather than where you’re flying. And if you’re forced to gate check a bag when overhead bins are full, you’re in a bind. Plus, you can only book these one way because if you throw away anything other than the last flight in your itinerary the rest of the trip gets cancelled.
And of course since you can’t check bags on a ticket like this, you really shouldn’t check in at the airport and involve a live agent in the process. Check in online or using the mobile app. And if you don’t do that, at least use a kiosk.
This story surprises me because I wouldn’t expect American Airlines corporate security to be on-site in Gainesville. Much more likely, I’d think, would be for the passenger to be met on arrival in Charlotte which is a hub and more likely to have airline staff that might handle this.
According to American Airlines, they “didn’t know about that part of the incident” but shared,
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 passenger has reportedly received a 3 year ban from the airline. There’s no leniency for juveniles. The family also had to purchase a new ticket for him to travel – effectively a walk up non-stop to Charlotte – and didn’t receive a refund for the original ticket. This last part seems wrong to me.
- The ticket shouldn’t be ‘cancelled’, no violation of American Airlines fare rules took place. The passenger was stopped prior to travel, which means they never ‘got off in Charlotte and didn’t take the connecting flight.’
- Instead they were told they couldn’t use the ticket they’d purchased for their intended trip. So they should have been allowed to apply the value of their ticket towards the purchase of the new one.
The exception here would be if the throwaway ticket was in basic economy, in which it would lose all value if not flown. But given that the passenger is receiving a three year ban for something they actually did not do (because American stopped them before they could), why not just say “ok, I’ll fly on to New York” as the ticket entitled them to do? Then get off in Charlotte anyway. Because they’re getting the three year ban penalty either way. Doubling down on the penalty and the extra ticket cost seems punitive for the kid’s first offense.
Normally an airline won’t catch someone doing this as a one-off. The story of this teen is highly unusual. Interestingly the Biden administration’s proposed airline fee disclosure rules would require any website displaying airline schedules to show specific fee information prominently. They treat airlines as owning that fee information, and allow airlines to choose which sites to work with and provide fee data to. By not distributing the fee information that websites are required by law to display, airlines can shut down services like Skiplagged that they do not like.