Friday, February 16, 2007

MaxABlog: Will JetBlue's Most Horrible Day Lead To a Bill of Rights? Not Likely

February 16, 2007
Will JetBlue's Most Horrible Day Lead To a Bill of Rights? Not Likely

It's now two days since jetBlue stranded passengers for up to ten hours on ten flights at New York's JFK airport because of a combination of winter weather, frozen ground equipment, unavailable gates, and hopeful airline dispatchers who thought maybe, just maybe, if they kept planes loaded and ready to go, a break in the weather would allow an opportunity to take off.

A passenger bill of rights is the topic du jour, just as it was seven years ago after Northwest Airlines stranded passengers at Detroit's airport in a winter snowstorm. (At least jetBlue had the presence of mind to quickly apologize and offer full refunds as well as a free ticket on a future flight to its victims.) After the Northwest snafu, the airlines blunted congressional action by proposing their own voluntary bill of rights that included such promises as keeping passengers up to date on the reasons for delays--once somehow considered top secret information by some airline ground staff for inexplicable reasons.

Since then, airlines have heeded that self-imposed list of promises rather haphazardly, perhaps because failure to abide by those promises carried no penalty. And because the Northwest foul up wasn't repeated right away, proponents of new legislation got little attention. Then came an American flight two months ago at Dallas-Ft. Worth airport that lingered for hours on the apron. And then jetBlue's crisis on Tuesday. And today, another jetBlue flight held passengers five hours on board on a Pittsburgh runway when the aircraft's brakes froze before takeoff on a JFK-bound flight.

Based on my experience of having been a Washington, DC, reporter for more than 20 years, I predict despite all the brouhaha surrounding jetBlue's terrible Tuesday, there will still be no passenger bill of rights at the end of the day. And if there is, airline interests will manage to water it down so as to make it toothless.

But maybe there's an airline smart enough to steal the march on the competition--jetBlue comes to mind as one company creative enough to do this--by issuing its own list of promises that come along with self-imposed penalties. Make the news, make it spectacular. No passengers will be held longer than an hour on the ground no matter what, or each passenger will receive $1,000 for every additional hour. Watch how fast an airline figures out--no matter how treacherous the weather--to get an aircraft back to a gate or a bus or snowplow out to a stranded plane.

Posted by Rudy Maxa in Late-Breaking News

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