[Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights]
I just happened to casually check Flightstats.com last Monday and saw that 500 flights were canceled at both Newark and Chicago on Sunday night.
It's got to the point where 1,000 canceled flights at two airports isn't even considered news.
One reason airlines are canceling more flights this year is to avoid the terrible black eye they sometimes get when an airplane sits on the tarmac, crammed with passengers, for three or more hours (some have sat for more than 12) while cabin conditions deteriorate.
Kate Hanni sprang into action in early 2007 after she and her husband and son sat for almost nine hours on one of more than 100 American Airlines flights stuck on tarmacs in and near Texas just before New Year's 2006. Kate got mad as hell and decided she wasn't going to take it any more.
Easy to say; difficult to do. Hanni did the very difficult. Tirelessly, she began organizing a grassroots coalition pressing for federal legislation to require airlines to take remedial action when planes full of people sit on tarmacs for over three hours. She got one law in New York (since overturned on appeal by the airlines, but currently under appeal by Kate's people) and a very serious movement in Washington toward federal legislation.
I first talked to Kate shortly after she began organizing. It was winter. She was on her cell phone from the small hotel in Washington where she'd set up a base camp for routine visits to the Capitol where she began buttonholing legislators.
Easy to say; difficult to do: Kate lives in California. Imagine plunging yourself into the Capitol in the dead of winter, with nobody paying your bills. She did this strictly as a citizen.
I was delighted, then, to see that Forbes Magazine's Executive Women named Hanni one of the 25 most influential female executives in travel.
And by the way, two things:
1. Even with preemptive cancellations, strandings are continuing to an alarming degree. Kate's organization (here's the blog, and the Web site is www.flyersrights.com) got more than 1,000 phone calls from stranded passengers this week.
2. Despite fierce lobbying and intense negative PR efforts from the airline industry, the federal passengers bill of rights still lives. As noted on the Web site, Rep. James Oberstar and Jerry Costello recently introduced a brand new version in the House.
Kate is writing a memoir about her amazing personal quest (I am not involved, incidentally, except as a cheerleader if she needs another one). It'll be a story of true grit and invincible determination. She quit her job as a highly paid real estate broker to take this on.
She's also a professional musician, so she understands how Washington can fiddle around while giving you a song and dance.
And if Hollywood has an ounce of sense (that's some if, I know) there is a movie in Kate Hanni -- "Erin Brockovich" meets "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Hey, wait a minute, Kate's a pal. If there is a movie, maybe I can get to play Jim May, the head of the Air Transport Association, Kate's mightiest enemy in Washington (and she has a lot of them).
Jim's well-known as a nice guy, just like me.
I think Jim has more hair, but wardrobe can fix that.