United Airlines and Orbitz are pursuing legal action against the site Skiplagged on the basis that it has hurt their business by creating unfair competition. Skiplagged effectively scrapes ticket information off of airline’s websites finding all combinations of travel to a certain destination. In some cases, it will be cheaper to fly from A to B by booking a ticket from A to C that has a layover at B, and then just skip the B to C leg of the journey. At a glance it may seem like a strange practice for an airline to price tickets this way, but it has to do with competition on the specific routes and how the airline utilizes their aircrafts. It can work out very well provided that you don’t have to check a bag, and is many times cost effective booking one way rather than return.
For newcomers, the fear of having to gate check a bag on a very full flight is enough to stop them. The practice of skipping the last leg has been practiced by seasoned travelers for a long time, but if sites like Skiplagged were to become more universally adopted, it would force the airlines to change their existing pricing model. As margins are already very tight in the travel sector, a general raise on all ticket prices would be expected to compensate for lost revenues.
So are the courts the correct way of handling this? The legal situation when it comes to scraping is always tricky. Historically, cases can go either way, and are always costly and can take years to resolve if there is enough cash available to mount a defense and subsequent appeals. As this is playing out in the US, United and Orbitz have a fighting chance. Even if they were successful in closing down Skiplagged in the US by a court order, it would be a safe bet that someone else will pick up on the idea in another jurisdiction. Spain, Germany or just about anywhere in Asia for example are unlikely to offer a favorable result to the airlines.
Considering the amount of media surrounding the lawsuit, it will most likely find its way into the queue sooner rather than later. One thing pretty much guaranteed over this action is bad press for United and Orbitz. It is hard to come out looking like the good guy when your viewed as the 800 pound gorilla going after a 22 year old for working around what is seen as protecting artificially high prices.
Is there a better way to handle the situation? Stop Skiplagged and any other scrapers that come along from getting the information in the first place. It is far cheaper than continued legal action, and makes good business sense to control and understand your sales channel. Results are immediate, and it avoids unwanted unfavorable publicity. Our managed anti scraping solutions have been helping companies make sound business choices on who and when to block scraping for almost a decade.