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Design Gadfly Strikes Again, All You Can Jet Pass in Hand

The young man who torched American Airlines' Web design embarks on an exhaustive new experiment: Hearing the stories of strangers on a plane.

Dustin Curtis

The last time we heard from Dustin Curtis, he was leveling a decimating critique of the Web design over at American Airlines—complete with his own suggestion of how the site should look. That effort got at least one AA designer fired. Curtis is back at it, in the airline industry. But this time, in a far different capacity: They're going to fly to every Jet Blue airport in the span of 30 days, documenting their trip and the stories they hear along the way.The project kicks off September 8, and ends October 8.

Wow—that's a pretty gonzo bit of reporting. It's being enabled by a 30-day All You Can Jet Pass; it was inspired by a chance encounter that Curtis had aboard a JetBlue flight with a former finance employee, who was flying to take a new job in San Francisco—having spent all her money on the flight, with none left over for a place to stay or food to eat.

This sort of mammoth reporting experiment has some legendary precursors. For example, Walker Evans famously documented the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. Today, his photographs are the signature images from the era. Today, rural farms maybe indicate a lot less about our country at large, an airplane is now probably the best place to find a broad swathe of backgrounds and stories.

But is this thing just a massive viral marketing stunt for JetBlue? Curtis wants to kick it off with a coffee—on him—with JetBlue's CEO, David Barger. Smells fishy.

But if it is a PR stunt, does that really take away from the project? The days of the WPA and the Farm Security Administration—and even, high quality, exhaustive newspaper reporting—are dead. Who else can pay for projects like this, except corporations?