Last November, United Airlines and Orbitz.com filed a civil lawsuit against Skiplagged.com, a website founded by 22-year-old Aktarer Zaman that helps people buy cheap plane tickets through a practice known as hidden-city ticketing. On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed United's suit on the grounds that the court didn't have jurisdiction over the case. (Orbitz and Skiplagged settled their suit in February.)
Judge John Blakey of the Northern District Court of Illinois said that because neither Skiplagged nor site founder Zaman live or do business in Illinois, his court was not the right venue for United Airlines, which is based in Chicago, to file its lawsuit.
“This dismissal does not preclude Plaintiff from refiling and litigating its claims in a proper forum,” Blakey wrote in his decision.
United Airlines responded in a statement on Friday: “The decision was a ruling on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the case."
Hidden-city ticketing is a strategy by which a customer buys an airline ticket from one city to another with a connection in between. But on the trip, the passenger flies only to the connecting city and ditches the second leg. That's because the ticket with the connection is sometimes cheaper than buying a direct flight to the connecting city. For example, it might be cheaper to buy a one-way ticket from New York to Minneapolis with a connection in Chicago than to book a flight directly to Chicago.
Savvy travelers can often figure out tickets like this for themselves, but sites like Skiplagged -- which had more than 1 million visitors in April -- help users find those fares.
Site founder Zaman told CNN that the dismissal "is definitely a victory. It is pretty amazing ... the court just shut them off."
United Airlines argues that Zaman's site helps users violate the airline's "carriage of contract" rules. "We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carriage by purchasing hidden-city tickets, putting the validity of their ticket and MileagePlus status at risk," the airline said in a statement.
Zaman crowdsourced $79,000 for his legal defense. His website does not make any money right now.