Friday, February 16, 2007

Newsweek Article

‘We’re Mad as Hell…’
Yet again, airline passengers have been held for hours on the tarmac. When will the torture end?

Jacob Silberberg / Reuters
Icy conditions wreaked havoc on JetBlue at JFK Airport
View related photos

By Patti Davis
Special to Newsweek
Updated: 1 hour, 12 minutes ago

Feb. 16, 2007 - It wasn’t that many years ago that if you heard about airline passengers locked on a standing plane, on the tarmac, for nine to 11 hours, you’d have asked, “Was it a hijacking?” Now, of course, the answer would be, “No, just the usual practice of the major airlines when they hit a snag.”

Over the Christmas holidays, when American Airlines diverted flights from Dallas and left passengers stuck on tarmacs around the country, some for as long as eight hours, we were shocked. Surely such abuse would not happen again, many people said. Particularly since a group of the passengers has pledged to push for federal legislation prohibiting such torture. It was the optimists among us, those who have a shred of faith left in corporate humanity, who looked at that incident as an anomaly, something that would not be allowed to happen again.

I don’t belong to the optimists club, certainly not when it comes to the airlines. I’m as cynical as they come, and at the risk of sounding like I’m some kind of psychic (which I’m not), I’ve been saying for a long time that this kind of thing was going to start happening. Why? Because the airlines, those big burly corporations who charge us a lot of money yet keep going broke themselves, who feed us pretzels (if we’re lucky), and ice cubes sometimes made from water that fails to meet federal quality standards, do not care about us. They never have and they never will—I don’t care how shiny and pretty their television commercials are. All you are is a wallet and a seat assignment.

So, now it’s happened again. On one awful day—Valentine’s Day, to make it even worse—at least 10 JetBlue planes sat on the tarmac in the East Coast ice storm, close enough to the terminal that the passengers could have walked there. They sat and sat, one plane for 11 hours. Wrap your mind around 11 hours. It’s more than a whole workday. It’s dawn to dusk. To lock anyone anywhere for that amount of time is nothing short of torture. There were hundreds of passengers on these planes. The toilets stopped working. The air was stifling and hot. There was little food and water. And what is JetBlue’s response? Refunding the passengers’ tickets and, of course, free trips for everyone.

The only thing that will stop this abuse is money. If people sue the airlines, again and again, and if those of us who can, refuse to fly whenever possible, maybe people will be treated with some measure of humanity and decency. Not because the airlines have suddenly gotten a heart, but because their heartlessness and cruelty will cost them big bucks.

Remember the movie “Network”? “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” That’s what needs to happen. Because, once again, the airlines do not care about us. They knew those planes were sitting there, full of passengers, and they did nothing. JetBlue acknowledges that it waited nearly five hours before calling in shuttle buses to take the stranded passengers back to the terminal.

What’s going to happen when someone dies on one of those planes? Stress can cause all sorts of things—heart attacks, strokes. Or what happens when someone completely flips out and attacks either another passenger or a stewardess? Forget about air rage; what about tarmac rage? Torture does that—it makes people lose their minds.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

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