WASHINGTON -- The chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp. apologized again yesterday for his airline's shoddy performance during a Valentine's Day storm.
"As long as I'm head of this company, it will never happen again," JetBlue CEO David Neeleman testified at a House subcommittee hearing, where he also argued against proposals to restrict how long delayed airplanes can wait on airport tarmacs before passengers have the right to deplane.
Mr. Neeleman testified that limiting how long planes carrying passengers can wait for takeoffs would be tough to implement at busy airports, where dozens of planes can be queued on the tarmac. Such a rule would be unfair to customers who are willing to wait for takeoff rather than return to the airport gate.
"Baloney!" Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., exclaimed, while paging through a printed copy of a Transportation Department official's testimony. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, expressing frustration with what he says is inadequate regulatory oversight of commercial airlines, said new legislation was likely.
Kate Hanni, a California real estate agent and founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, testified of a nightmarish eight hours stranded aboard an American Airlines plane last year at an airport in Austin, Texas. Ms. Hanni called for a new law to "hold the airlines accountable."
Outrage followed JetBlue's handling of a winter storm on Feb. 14, when the airline canceled more than 1,000 flights, affecting at least 100,000 passengers. Some customers were stuck inside aircraft for up to 10 hours at New York's JFK Airport.
JetBlue quickly rolled out a customer bill of rights after the storm, offering vouchers to delayed customers. In March, the company hired Russ Chew, a former top Federal Aviation Administration official and former executive at AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, as chief operating officer.
Yet air passenger rights are still on lawmakers' minds. In February, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R.-Maine, introduced a bill that would require airlines to let passengers on delayed flights deplane after three hours.