Logan Parson's first flight by himself ended with airport officials taking the teenager into custody and whisking him away into an interrogation room.
New York, however, was not Logan's final destination.
Instead, he planned to exit the plane during its layover in Charlotte — his hometown — and simply forgo the final leg of his journey, employing a travel hack called “skiplagging,” or hidden-city ticketing.
Skiplagging exploits the airline companies' pricing schemes to the benefit of the customer.
Typically direct flights to a destination are more expensive than a flight with a layover. Perhaps a direct flight to Denver costs $370, but a flight to San Diego — with a several-hour layover in Denver — only costs $200. For a traveler hoping to get to Denver, it makes more sense to purchase the San Diego ticket and simply exit the plane in Denver, rather than purchasing a direct ticket to the city.
That's what Hunter Parsons, Logan's father, thought when he booked his son a ticket to New York.
“We’ve used Skip Lagged almost exclusively for the last five to eight years,” Mr Parsons told Queen City News. “Booked a flight from Gainesville regional to JFK via Charlotte.”
Mr Parsons dropped Logan off at the airport in Florida, but a gate agent noted the teenager's ID cards were issued in Gainsville — the same city where his flight was scheduled to stop for a layover. The agent became sceptical and reported him to airport officials, who detained and questioned the teen.
“Interrogated a little bit, ultimately taken to a security room,” Mr Parsons said. “They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight.”
After American Airlines learned that the teen was planning to skiplag, officials reportedly called his parents and forced them to buy a new direct flight from Gainsville to Charlotte.
Skiplagging cuts into the airline industry's profits, therefore the airline industry does not like skiplagging. United Airlines actually sued a website dedicated to helping travelers find better skiplagging deals, but ultimately lost. Lufthansa went so far as to sue a passenger who skiplagged, claiming the customer should have paid £2,769, but instead bought a £600 ticket and disembarked early.
A German court ultimately ruled in the traveller's favour.
While there is nothing illegal about skiplagging — at least at present — the airline industry can set its own rules and punish travelers who are caught using the travel hack. Those punishments could include the loss of travel points or — as happened to the Parsons — additional ticketing charges.
Not only did Mr Parsons have to pay more for his son's second ticket, he also was left afraid for his child, who had never flown alone.
“Our concerns are he is a minor and was kind of left to fend for himself several states away,” Mr Parsons said.
American Airlines provided a comment on its decision to detain the child traveler to Queen City News.
“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 airline said in a statement.
Mr Parsons — who did not know the practice was frowned upon by the airlines — said a warning would have been preferable to having his son detained and questioned.
“I think a stern warning, hey this is frowned upon, if you do it again there would be consequences, financial penalties,” he said. “But to put a minor in that situation was really the reason we have a concern.”
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