Last week, an ice storm on Feb. 14 resulted in an operations breakdown that left hundreds of JetBlue passengers stranded for more than six hours on the tarmac at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport. About 1,000 flights were canceled over the next five days, as JetBlue struggled to recover from the breakdown.
The ongoing drama quickly became fodder for bloggers--many in the travel industry--who channeled the outrage into a campaign for a proposed "passengers' bill of rights."
Christopher Elliott, a prominent travel blogger, Friday sounded a triumphal note in a post on his blog, Ellipses: "Feb. 15 will go down in the history of travel blogging as an historic day. It was our long-awaited 'Rathergate' moment--a time when travel bloggers finally realized the power of their medium."
The pending legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Mike Thompson of California, is based on proposals by Kate Hanni, a California real estate broker-turned-advocate who became enraged after sitting on a grounded American Airlines plane for nine hours on Dec. 29, 2006. After forming her "Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights," Hanni took the fight to the Web, with a blog and discussion forum where visitors can sign an online petition.
Over the last month her effort garnered some TV publicity as well as an article--coincidentally published the day before the JetBlue fiasco--in the San Jose Mercury News. As the JetBlue delay lengthened on Feb. 14, blogs like dailyaviator.com (maintained by Dennis Collins, a pilot) pointed readers to earlier news coverage of Hanni's project. Links.com publicized Hanni's blog and her Google forum, and the Mercury News article was re-posted on U.S. Politics Today. On the 16th, Hanni's story was picked up by CBS News, CNNMoney.com, ABC News, and The New York Times' online blog.
On Thursday Hanni's online campaign finally bore fruit, with California Senator Barbara Boxer asserting: "If a plane is stuck on the tarmac or at the gate for hours, a passenger should have the right to deplane." Boxer said the new legislation will codify passenger rights, including "procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur."
Meanwhile, the topic still is "percolating in a big way in both the blogosphere and on travel forums," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen BuzzMetrics. "Few issues drive 'virality' as much as bad travel experience," Blackshaw said.