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Rare JetBlue misstep could trigger Passenger Bill of Rights

I've mentioned the newly energized movement for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights in a previous blog entry, including a review of the specific incidents which gave rise to the associated consumer and congressional initiatives.

Both in its earlier and current incarnations, the impetus to formalize passenger rights came from similar incidents: the airlines—Northwest in 1999 and American in 2006—leaving their passengers stranded on airport tarmacs for eight or more hours, within easy reach of terminals.

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Such high-handed disregard for consumers' needs and rights epitomized what many perceived to be the airlines' systematic mistreatment of the traveling public and galvanized resolve to enforce accountability.

It was deja vu all over again on Wednesday this week, as more than 1,000 flyers on nine JetBlue flights were stranded for up to 11 hours at New York's JFK Airport. And that may have been the last straw.

The very next day, Sen. Barbara Boxer issued a press release headed "Boxer to Introduce Passenger's Bill of Rights," and subtitled "Legislation would help ensure air travelers are not unnecessarily held on planes."

And, on the consumer side, prominently featured today on the New York Times website is a blog entry entitled "Held Hostage on the Tarmac: Time for A Passenger Bill of Rights?"

This train has left the station.

The irony of the situation shouldn't go unmentioned.

If it turns out that an operational breakdown by JetBlue—one of the industry's standouts in meeting customers' expectations—was the catalyst for legislation that would hold the entire industry to higher standards, it would be perverse justice indeed. But to paraphrase an old blues lyric, if it weren't for perverse justice, we might have no justice at all.

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