Teenager ‘Taken To Security Room And Interrogated’ By American Airlines For Throwaway Ticketing

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.

(HT: @RossFeinstein)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This would be more acceptable if airlines didn’t pull greedy moves like overbooking. They literally sell seats they don’t have (cough cough Delta). When asked about it they say “oh there’s an algorithm” that tells them how much they can oversell by because people don’t show up, cancel, etc.

    Ok, so knowing that…how much you want to bet they not only made money on this poor kid twice but ALSO sold his ticket to someone else. Quite possibly before they knew they had it to sell! How many times can they sell a ticket you think?

    I do have to say I love it when on Christmas eve on stupidly oversold flights they start offering credits. It only goes up and up because no one is going to give up their seat. Eventually someone does and I think yes! Stick it to the airline…but the reality is that doesn’t always work and the scummy airline literally splits family up for holidays and the house always wins. There’s no losing money for them.

    Airlines really need to get their stuff together.

  2. This makes me HATE the airlines. Now I know why people get mad only to be arrested by the airline police. They put a stranglehold on you and your life. Lawyers, please come forward for this boy.

  3. When the 3 years are over, that kid will undoubtedly become a loyal life-long AA customer

    Who flies from Gainesville to Charlotte anyways? These days driving is sadly faster and cheaper.

  4. This kid should count himself lucky to get banned from AA. Sad, totalitarian, miserable union staffed airline that finds ways to hammer their customers daily. This incident did not financially harm AA and likely allowed a stranded connecting pax a spot regardless.

  5. Has anyone ever been re routed on one of these drop segment tickets ?

    Due to weather in CLT there has been a change to your itinerary. Now Gainesville – MIA – LGA arriving at 11:45 pm.

  6. @ATOAGENT: Did you just publicly admit to being an accessory to kidnapping of a minor?

    The actual analogy here is you go to a steak house that sells the $XXX 64oz steak but will comp it off your bill if you are able to eat the whole thing. But you already agreed to pay for the steak so the charge if you don’t eat it is legitimate.

    If an airline wants to sell XXX-YYY-ZZZ for a price lower than XXX-YYY, they can sell it at the same price and offer a rebate if you take the 2nd segment. But that’s not what they’re doing.

    AA was paid for the flights. You can’t force someone to go somewhere. You certainly can’t detain someone because they don’t want to somewhere you want them to go.

    Is there any case history where an airline actually went to trial and got an enforcible verdict against someone who simply decided to not take the 2nd segment they paid for?

    No reasonable person could expect that buying something obligated them to consume it.

    Nobody can make you eat the steak.

  7. “It should be illegal for airlines to ban skiplegging. If they want to stop that practice, they should price their tickets fairly. A flight with a stopover should never be cheaper than a flight directly to that stopover. ” Totally agreed.

    The airlines always try to work the morals in their favor. If people want to disboard a flight, they should have the freedom to do that.

    The kids should sue AA for detaining him and voilating his rights.

  8. For some reason florida is a hot bed of AA routes with higher costs on short hops vs stop over routes. Makes me wonder if Seth Miller woulf approve of this route 🙂

  9. What is needed here is for DOT to change the nature of the contractual relationship to “fee for service”. Yes – its a Contract but if I contract for someone to build me a 25 square foot deck in my backyard and I decide around halfway through that 15 square foot is fine I have a right to modify the agreement and only pay for what is delivered. In this case I’m buying a Ticket and decide I’m only going to use part of the service I paid for. As the author said – its not illegal, but currently it is a breach of Contract which then gives the airlines leverage to do this crap. However, if it was me in this case I would sue for “unlawful detention” of a minor. They can refuse boarding but they have no rights to detain and question – that’s for law enforcement only.

  10. Eternal Tech and Chris Raehl have presented excellent points while ATOAGENT, just as AA, doesn’t grasp the situational ethics.

  11. And if the first flight was cancelled and he had been rerouted let’s say GNV DCA LGA would he still wanna get off in DCA? You buy a ticket from point city A to city B and could.inlude stops it lots of cities so if something happens u will have to be rebooked to that point B your connection is not gonna be same or the one u wanna outsmart the airline and get off at

  12. @Chris Raehl

    The kid repudiated the contract when he admitted he wasn’t going to fly onto New York.

    It’s well-settled contract last that repudiation can be treated as breach — you don’t have to wait for the other party to actually breach before you enforce your rights under breach.

    So at that point, with the kid already in breach, AA could refuse to perform their side of the deal (refuse to fly him).

    If the kid hadn’t admitted it, they likely wouldn’t have had the right to refuse to fly to him. Sometimes in contracts it doesn’t pay to be fully honest about your intent to breach. That’s just how it is.

  13. Just another reason to avoid American Airlines like the plague. I will change my travel dates if AA is my only option for the time & date I want to fly!

  14. Assume A to B is more expensive than A to B to C in my example. So if I booked a ticket from A to B with a stub end leg from B to C and my wife surprises me by driving from C to B to pick me up what do I tell her? Sorry Honey the airlines “rules of the road” say I have to use the B to C ticket so can you drive back to C and get me at the airport there?
    When I purchased the A to B to C ticket I technically and temporarily leased those seats from the airline. If I arrive at B and my plans change so I don’t have to use the B to C segment why should I be penalized for not using the seat I legally purchased?

  15. I hope he gets life in prison as he took extreme Advantage of American Airlines
    Forced to eat Americans catering could be worse

  16. I travel globally a lot due to my career and have flown quite frequently for the last 50 years. I flew American Airlines once about 40 years ago. The customer experience was so bad that I promised never to fly with them again. I have kept that promise all these years.

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