Southwest sues website that tried to capitalize on free flight changes

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Southwest Airlines has sued a website that charged a fee in exchange for notifying customers when the price fell on their booked Southwest flight.

The six-count suit, filed Jan. 5 in the United States District Court in Dallas, accuses SWMonkey.com of computer fraud, unlawfully using the carrier's trademark and violating the published terms and conditions for use of the Southwest.com website. 

Southwest field the suit even though SWMonkey stopped conducting business in late November after less than a month of operations, in response to cease-and-desist letters from the carrier. However, SWMonkey owners Chase Roberts and Pavel Yurevich have ignored Southwest's demands that the site be taken down from the Internet.

During its short run, SWMonkey operated under a simple business model. Southwest, unlike other U.S. airlines, doesn't charge change fees. In addition, if the price of a ticket drops, Southwest customers who booked at a higher fare can rebook and receive a credit for the difference. However, customers have to monitor fares to take advantage of such an opportunity.

SWMonkey offered to do that monitoring for its members through the use of an automated program it developed to pull, or scrape, data from the Southwest.com site.  When a ticket price dropped more than $10 below a customer's purchase price, SWMonkey would send that customer a notification and charge $3 for the service.

Roberts and Yurevich closed the business after receiving two cease-an- desist letters from Southwest. The website now offers no commercial service and explains to visitors that  SWMonkey shut down at the behest of Southwest after taking in revenues of $45 while saving Southwest customers $550 on airfare and 43,000 Rapid Rewards points.

In its lawsuit, Southwest cites its terms and condition notice, which states that individuals, with the exception of travel agents, shall not use company information for a commercial purpose.

Southwest also asserts that SWMonkey's customers were likely to think the start-up was working in partnership with Southwest, thereby damaging the carrier's reputation for not charging change fees.

Southwest said it believes SWMonkey intends to resume its business. It is asking the court for an injunction against further operations and for unspecified monetary damages.

"Defendants' acts have irreparably damaged, impaired and diluted Southwest's goodwill and good name," the carrier said. 

In a blog post on Nov. 28, Roberts and Yurevich pasted a portion of what they said was the final cease-and-desist letter they received from Southwest. In the letter, dated Nov. 22, a Southwest attorney tells SWMonkey to shut down the website.

But in the blog, Roberts and Yurevich were defiant.

"Southwest has no right to decide who can and can't publish information on the Internet," they wrote. "Until Southwest can be transparent with us and offer up a legitimate reason why we should not be allowed to host an informational website, SWMonkey, the service that no longer helps people save money on their flights, is not going anywhere."

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