Spain’s Passenger-Friendly Supreme Court Ruling Makes Hidden City Ticketing Legal

Nov 24, 2018

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Spain’s Supreme Court, or in Spanish, El Tribunal Supremo de España, recently handed down rulings on a variety of issues directly related to your rights as a passenger. These rulings were in response to three clauses that the Supreme Court found to be abusive, specifically as it related to airline ticketing and Iberia’s contract of carriage. One of the more significant rulings essentially legalized hidden-city ticketing, or skiplagging.

The most significant ruling was likely the nullification of the clause that would have potentially allowed for penalties if a passenger used the money-saving method known as skiplagging. Skiplagging, commonly referred to as hidden-city ticketing, can save a passenger potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the itinerary.

When a passenger practices skiplagging, they book a flight to a city other than their intended destination city. Though their destination city isn’t the city to which they are traveling, their itinerary features the city to which they plan on traveling. Rather than fly to the destination city in the itinerary, a passenger will simply get off at their destination and not continue onto the final leg or legs of the itinerary. In this case, the passenger’s destination is the hidden city.

Skiplagging has proved to be a consistently sore subject for airlines and passengers. Airlines view hidden-city ticketing as an abusive practice that hurts their bottom line and could even impact operations. Passengers, however, believe they should be able to fly as little or as much of their itinerary as they desire. US airlines have been especially tough, or at lease tough vocally, on hidden-city ticketing. United has even threatened to impact the credit of those who partake in skiplagging. Other airlines usually pursue other less extreme punitive measures, including the closure of frequent flyer programs or the deletion of elite status.

However, Spain’s Supreme Court has decided that skiplagging is completely legal and that the Spanish flag carrier cannot punish customers who practice skiplagging. Iberia must also keep the remainder of a customer itinerary open and active should that customer decide to skip the last leg. Essentially, Iberia cannot cancel the itineraries of those who skip certain legs of a flight. This decision means that hidden-city ticketing is completely legal for passengers traveling on Iberia.

According to God Save The Points, this case started at lower levels of the Spanish judiciary, eventually making its way to the highest court. The issue was whether or not Iberia, the flag carrier of Spain, practiced predatory ticketing practices.

Madrid, Spain - March 5, 2015: An Iberia Airbus A321 with the registration EC-ILP approaching Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD). Iberia is the flag carrier airline of Spain with its headquarters in Madrid. (Photo by Boarding1Now / Getty Images)
An Iberia Airbus A321 with the registration EC-ILP approaching Madrid Barajas Airport. (Photo by Boarding1Now / Getty Images)

Additionally, Spain’s Supreme Court noted that the  action that initiates a contract between an airline and a passenger is when the passenger pays for the ticket. The Supreme Court views an airline canceling a passenger’s paid ticket as a breach of the contract. This ruling means that no-shows can no longer be penalized and that Iberia must keep a passenger’s itinerary open even in the event of a no-show.

As of the November 20th ruling, these decisions are only applicable to the Spanish carrier Iberia. However, in the event that other Spanish carriers, including Vueling, are caught punishing these passenger behaviors, it would be quite easy for the Spanish courts to apply these rulings to those airlines. While these decisions are exclusive to the Spanish legal system, they could set a precedent for future rulings elsewhere.

The United States Supreme Court is not currently ruling on airline-related cases, however, there are various passenger rights issues that could make their way into, at the very least, a lower court. Should the US also seek a decision on whether or not passengers can knowingly miss flights, Spain’s ruling could bear some weight.

H/T: Simple Flying

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