Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I am just hyper-analytical.
Similar disclaimer. I'm not a lawyer. I'm just workshopping a hypothetical. My distaste regarding corporate behavior should be clear from my posts.
My main question is: if corporations are so shameless about their greed, why aren't they using their corporate muscle to work behind the scenes to get Congress to grant them a cut out?
If I am understanding you correctly, I am having trouble with the analogy - as from what I understood, the hidden city ticketing, you're still paying the fare that was required for the particular ticket. If we go into warping the idea of theft of service like this, counting not to make the money they wish they could, the implications would be rather silly and far reaching when applied to, say, day to day things (perfectly legal things, not illegal things) people do which have the same net effect of denying them the potential to make some money they wish they could. Window shopping, buying something and then returning it, looking to buy something, then seeing a competitor is selling the same product for a better price and going with them, arguably do the same sort of things, yet wouldn't at all, reasonably be considered theft of anything.
All of this is sound logic, which is why they'd need Congress to grant them some special cut out, using all the usual lingo they use to justify why aviation deserves special treatment.
What does this sort of van look like in practice? Criminal prosecution for hidden city ticketing?
Treat it like theft of service, I suppose.
Theft requires intent to steal. How do you suggest proving that?
Look for a pattern. First time, meh. Second time, hmm. Third time, you're gaming the system.
It's not like we're allowed to fly anonymously any more.