from the throwing-away-goodwill dept
This lawsuit is a couple months old, but I’m clearing out some older stories, and thought it was worth writing up still. Southwest Airlines is regularly ranked as a favorite of consumers. While it’s generally relatively low cost as airlines go, it has kept up a reputation of stellar customer service — contrary to the reputations of some other low cost airlines. However, earlier this year, Southwest not only decided to be particularly anti-consumer, but to go legal about it. The company decided to sue the site Skiplagged.
If you’ve never seen it, Skiplagged is a neat service — effectively finding secret cheaper fares by exposing some of the hidden (stupid) secrets of airline fares. I discovered it years ago, after writing about some sketchy airline pricing tricks involving multi-city travel. The secret that Skiplagged realized is that you can often find cheaper flights by booking a multi-leg trip, and not taking all the flights. As Skiplagged sums it up: “As an example, a traveler who wants to go to San Francisco from New York would book a flight that is ticketed for NYC -> San Fran -> Seattle and end their travel once they arrive in San Fran and skip the leg to Seattle.”
This can create some pretty massive details, and like those sketchy scam ads say “this one weird trick… that the airlines hate” except that it actually works. And now Southwest has decided to go to court over it.
Now, it’s important to note that unlike many other airlines, Southwest requires people to buy tickets via its own site, and refuses to have its fares offered on aggregation sites. It also has a long and somewhat unfortunate history of suing websites who try to improve on Southwest fares in some manner. A decade ago we wrote about Southwest going after sites that help flyers track their frequent flyer mileage, and a few years back, we wrote about a ridiculous lawsuit against a website that alerted Southwest flyers if they could change their ticket to a cheaper option after they booked a flight (since Southwest has a no-charge for changes policy). Unfortunately, after a court refused to dismiss that lawsuit under Texas’s anti-SLAPP law, leading the site to effectively agree to shut down permanently.
Here, Southwest is claiming a sort of double-whammy — saying that Skiplagged is getting data on Southwest flights via another company (who Southwest is already suing), Kiwi.com, and using those fares to find the skipped leg cheaper options (also referred to as “hidden city” tickets).
Southwest claims this violates basically all the laws: trademark violations, page scraping violations, unauthorized sales, unfair and deceptive practices and a few others as well.
On June 8, 2021, Southwest wrote a letter to Skiplagged from Texas, explaining that Skiplagged was violating the Southwest Terms & Conditions by scraping and/or using data scraped from Southwest.com, promoting ?hidden city? tickets, and using Southwest?s trademarked heart logo to advertise the sale of tickets on Southwest Airlines without its authorization.
Southwest explained that Southwest had ?the exclusive distribution rights to sell Southwest flights to the general public through the Southwest Website? and never authorized Skiplagged to display or sell its fares, display its trademark logos, publish its flight or fare data, or to use the Southwest Website for or in connection with offering any third-party product or service?or use Southwest?s trademarks in doing so.
Southwest further explained that Skiplagged was inducing Southwest customers to violate the Southwest Terms & Conditions and/or Contract of Carriage. Southwest included a complete copy of the Southwest Terms & Conditions, and the details of registered trademarks.
While they may have (unfortunately) a legal leg to stand on, all of this should be seen as crazy. It’s not trademark infringement, as it’s providing factual information about the flights themselves. They’re not selling counterfeit flights. The flights are real and they’re really provided by Southwest. Scraping of such public, factual information, should never be illegal. Southwest is putting that information out there, and it doesn’t get to control how it’s used. And the fact that Southwest doesn’t want people to get off a flight too early is Southwest’s problem. They set the prices that way and the fact that some people have figured out how to game that system shouldn’t be someone else’s problem. It’s only Southwest’s.
Basically all of this is Southwest enabling all of this to happen, but then suing because people who figured out how to actually use their systems, their prices, and their information in ways that Southwest doesn’t like. That should never be a violation of the law.
The whole thing seems to be an abuse of the legal process to try to stop people from taking advantage of Southwest’s data and flights in a way that Southwest does in fact offer, but in a manner in which Southwest would prefer they not be able to. That should never be illegal. If Southwest doesn’t want people doing those hidden city flights, then it should fix its pricing. Or suck it up. Not sue. And, as some are noting, this very lawsuit seems to highlight how Southwest’s “customer friendly” persona is bullshit. Look how far the company will go to block its “valued customers” from actually finding the cheapest possible flights that Southwest does in fact offer.