The website of a computer prodigy is cutting the cost of fares, and upsetting two corporate Goliaths in the process.
Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old New Yorker with a knack for computers, created a website to help people find hidden, cheap fares on flights. Now, two behemoths of air travel, United Airlines and Orbitz, have filed a civil suit against the young Internet whiz. But experts say that while he may have cracked the code that could affect their bottom lines, it’s unlikely he broke any actual laws in the process.
Skiplagged, Zaman’s site, capitalized on “hidden city” ticketing, a loophole well-known to frequent air travelers. Passengers who purchase a ticket with a layover, but then end their flight in the connecting city – instead of the final destination on their tickets – can save up to hundreds of dollars.
For example, as a 2011 New York Times article points out, a ticket from Des Moines to Dallas might cost $375. A ticket from Des Moines to Los Angeles – twice the distance – could cost as little as half that. As the latter flight features a layover in Dallas, by ending your travel in your layover city, you can save big.
In their suit, United and Orbitz are seeking $75,000, a figure the two companies claim represents revenue lost. Zaman, who spoke to CNN Money, says he didn’t profit off the site and that he simply made the practice of finding hidden city fares “accessible to consumers.”
What’s more, Michael Boyd, the President of aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International, says, “I don’t think it’s illegal what he’s doing.” But Boyd acknowledged that the lawsuit from United and Orbitz, two companies with more than enough capital to pour into lengthy litigation, could end up costing Zamar a staggering amount.
Skiplagged is currently shut down, but the Internet has rallied to the site’s defense, contributing more than $35,000 so far to a GoFundMe for Zaman’s legal fees.
Social media has also taken up the cause of spreading the word about other sources for finding hidden city fares.