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Lufthansa sues passenger for using “hidden city” fares to save money

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Lufthansa, the German national airline, is suing a passenger for missing his layover. This story is a little more complicated than an airline suing a customer for being late or careless: Lufthansa is claiming that the passenger booked a flight from Seattle to Oslo, Norway, with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany, and intentionally missed the connecting flight, instead boarding a different Lufthansa flight he had booked that was headed to Berlin, his intended destination. (Would he have gotten caught if he had just, you know, booked the Berlin flight through a separate airline? Who knows.)

The passenger, who is unnamed in court documents obtained by CNN, was allegedly taking advantage of a loophole that makes fares through a certain destination — such as a flight to Oslo through Frankfurt — cheaper than fares to that destination. Lufthansa is claiming €2,112 (approximately $2,300) in damages, claiming the passenger violated its terms and conditions by using the so-called “hidden city” loophole.

Here’s how it works: Let’s say you need to get from point A to point B, but for some reason, it’s cheaper for you to fly from point A to point C with a layover in point B. As long as you don’t check a bag (since checked bags always fly to the plane’s final destination, provided the airline doesn’t lose your luggage) there’s theoretically nothing stopping you from simply not catching your connecting flight, as long as your paperwork is in order.

These flights are cheaper because, as the blog Cranky Flier points out, “airlines don’t price based on cost. Airlines price based on demand.” A direct flight is more desirable than a flight with a layover, so airlines will price those flights higher. And certain cities, like Frankfurt, also operate as hubs that serve as common layover points. An airline can fill a plane into Frankfurt with a mix of customers who are actually headed there and others who are stopping there to catch a flight elsewhere.

Airlines, obviously, don’t like that people have caught on to hidden city ticketing. The most obvious reason is that if someone books a flight and only shows up for one leg of it, the airline can’t sell that seat to another passenger. (Although it’s worth noting that airlines often overbook flights, and it’s always possible that someone is waiting to catch a flight on standby — but since it’s not a guaranteed sell, airlines don’t prefer it.)

They also claim that passengers who intentionally miss part of their flight make things worse for other customers: Gate agents could hold the flight for a passenger who has no intention of showing up, possibly delaying the flight and having a cascading effect. And a customer who purchases a flight he has no intention of taking could drive prices up for other customers who try to book later by making it seem like there’s more demand for that flight than there actually is.

Airlines also argue that the hub-and-spoke model, where one airport serves as a “hub” to other airlines in the region, lets them keep prices low in order to compete with budget airlines, which do charge per leg.

The Lufthansa lawsuit isn’t the first time an airline has sued someone for gaming the system. In 2014, United Airlines and the booking website Orbitz filed a joint suit against Aktarer Zaman, the then-22-year-old coder behind Skiplagged, a website that helps people find hidden city flights, claiming $75,000 in damages. United argued that Zaman was unfairly competing with other booking sites and promoting “strictly prohibited” travel. Orbitz joined the suit because Skiplagged redirected potential passengers through Orbitz, effectively forcing the site to violate its own contract with United. A judge ended up throwing out the case because it was filed in Chicago and Zaman neither lived nor worked in that jurisdiction.

As for the Lufthansa suit, it’s unclear what will happen next. A judge dismissed the case in December, but a Lufthansa spokesperson told CNN that the company “has already filed the appeal against the decision” and will move forward with the case. One travel blogger argues that no matter the outcome, Lufthansa will end up looking like the bad guy. After all, it’s rare that the public will side with an airline.

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes

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Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates

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