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Tale of Marooned Passengers Galvanizes Airline Opponents

They also have not been shy about lamenting their economic problems and the cost cuts needed to keep operating -- conditioning travelers to expect far less when they fly.

Consultants and academics who track the industry say that has led many passengers to accept the problems.

"We have all come to expect a lot less and have come to know that it doesn't do a lot of good to complain," said Dean Headley, a professor at Wichita State University and co-author of the Airline Quality Review report.

Lawmakers did not jump to attack the airlines yesterday, perhaps indicating a level of acceptance by some of the most frequent fliers in the country.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who plans to introduce legislation to create a passengers' bill of rights, held back from railing against the airlines yesterday in an interview, saying he wanted to craft a balanced bill. Like other frequent fliers, he said he has also come to accept the tribulations of flying between Washington and his California district.

"I just kind of flip the switch and go through the motions until I get home. You know it's going to be a pain," he said.

Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation subcommittee, said in an interview yesterday that he was willing to give the airlines another chance to "develop policies to make certain these things don't happen again before standards are imposed on them."

He called the JetBlue fiasco "unacceptable" but hinted that a passenger bill of rights would have a tough time passing, noting that Congress does not like to meddle in business affairs. Referring to the American Airlines and JetBlue incidents, he said the airlines had "two strikes against them" -- meaning they hadn't yet struck out.

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