Continental’s Overnight Excursion in Rochester, Minnesota

I haven’t commented on the ridiculousness that is Continental #2816 yet, and I’ve received plenty of emails asking me why that hasn’t happened. You know the flight; that’s the one where the passengers got stuck on their little regional jet all night long after diverting from Minneapolis/St Paul to Rochester, Minnesota because of bad weather. I decided to wait to write a post until I could get full information, and I simply couldn’t get it. But now that the initial report is out from the DOT, I’ve got enough to start talking. Surprisingly, it points to Delta Connection carrier Mesaba as the real problem here, though they are denying it.

There’s a lot of finger pointing going on, that’s for sure. Just about everyone originally jumped on ExpressJet (the operator of the Continental Express flight) for not getting people off quickly enough and on Continental for not taking enough responsibility for the flight. Turns out that while they do take some blame, much of it lies on little Mesaba, the regional that’s owned by Delta and the handling agent at the Rochester airport.

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In the end, however, the issue not who is at fault in this specific situation but rather the fact that it keeps happening. (There was another one on Sun Country on Friday.) Do we really need a passenger bill of rights to prevent these things? I still say no. Let’s take a look at some of the things people are saying should have happened.

  • They were stupid for diverting to Rochester when Continental doesn’t have an operation there. They should have diverted somewhere else.

    Sure, that would have made sense. They could have gone elsewhere and handled things their own way, but if you look at the timeline (pdf), they did it for a reason. The original alternate was Madison, Wisconsin, but by switching to Rochester, that would “give the aircraft additional fuel to circle MSP in anticipation of a break in the weather.” It was a gamble that didn’t pay off, but it could have and then everyone would have been happy.

  • They should have just left Rochester when they couldn’t get people off the plane.

    Easier said than done. They did get refueled in Rochester, so they were ready to takeoff, but the weather just didn’t cooperate. Recordings of the captain (wav) make it sound like she was uncomfortable with flying in that weather even though there might have been a small window. It was the end of a very long day and if she wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t have wanted her flying.

  • They should have put the passengers on a bus

    As we learn in one of the recordings, they tried to get a bus but the bus companies wouldn’t send anything because of flash flooding between Minneapolis and Rochester.

  • They should have at least let them into the terminal.

    Seriously. They should have. It appears that it wasn’t really ExpressJet’s fault, entirely. There were plenty of communications with the Mesaba people trying to get them off the plane. First Mesaba told them the terminal was closed and they couldn’t send anyone in. Then they said that they couldn’t get a jet bridge and they didn’t have a place for them in the terminal. That’s just awful.

  • They should have gone around Mesaba’s local crew and made things happen.

    Yes, they should have. The DOT said that it should have been escalated and ExpressJet says the same thing. Senior management should have been alerted so that they could have gotten these people off that plane.

  • The passengers should have just gotten off the plane or called 911.

    I can’t figure out why this didn’t happen. The door was open, but they couldn’t get any stairs and there was another airplane right nearby. Still, this is only a few feet off the ground, so it would have been a somewhat unsafe drop but not a horrible one. I just would have gotten out of there and taking my chance on getting arrested. I have no idea why everyone sat around all night. Maybe they were all nice Midwesterners.

So did we learn anything? Maybe a little. We definitely learned that crews should escalate the issue as high as possible if it doesn’t get resolved quickly. We also learned that passengers should just walk off the damn plane if they get stuck for that long. But this really was a combination of a bunch of things coming together to screw these poor passengers.

The problem is that this ends up stoking the fire for a government-regulated passenger bill of rights, and I still don’t think that’s going to help. There are plenty of things about this industry that the government doesn’t understand – they’re likely to come up with a bill that makes things worse for everyone. But, if the industry keeps letting crap like this happen, then there isn’t going to be another option.

But what would that have done here? Would Mesaba get fined? That might still happen anyway. Would the passengers magically have been transported off the plane? Not simply because of a law. A federal law probably wouldn’t have changed much here. Continental, for example, already has a policy to get people off the plane after a certain period of time. I think Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said it best.

There was a complete lack of common sense here. It’s no wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated.

I agree, but can you regulate common sense? I don’t think so. All I know is that the airlines need to take this more seriously.

[Original Images via http://www.flickr.com/photos/madfox/ / CC BY 2.0 and ExpressJet.com]

63 Responses to Continental’s Overnight Excursion in Rochester, Minnesota

  1. dan powers says:

    Cranky, as an airline industry person , I think a lot of the blame goes to TSA…they have become a huge bureaucracy….and they are always pushing around their weight making threats of fines arrests etc, read alll the statistics Boyd has on them in his website. I was in SEA the other day and noticed a TSA person stamping customer boarding passes with a TSA logo stamp in red …seems to me more like red tape….have not heard much else about the incident in chicago where they damaged the pitot tubes on several aircraft….used the pitot tubes as step ladders.

  2. It seems to be the old adage of to many chiefs and none making a decision because they were all in bed..so you have employees that won’t go over somebody’s head and do the right thing, plus the fact every company has their own little fifedom and won’t give, the fix is simple, the manger on duty of the Airport in question over-rules everything, like the Captain in the air.
    on IAG the Rochester Airport Manager said the they were not to blame and there was an area available for the passengers, but he didn’t state if he was at the actual airport in person, if so why didn’t he allow the plane to deplane and take control of the situation?..
    The real worry is because of this case and others like it, is that aircraft won’t divert to certain airports if they have a problem or a weather situation because it is not their company turf, so again the standing airport administration on duty should again take control of the situation, wasn’t that the case in the early days?

  3. CF says:

    Matthew Gulino wrote:

    I think some regulation is required…but not necessarily punitive as Cranky fears.

    I’m all for this kind of thing.

    Stephen Dutton wrote:

    The real worry is because of this case and others like it, is that aircraft won’t divert to certain airports if they have a problem or a weather situation because it is not their company turf, so again the standing airport administration on duty should again take control of the situation, wasn’t that the case in the early days?

    I’m really not sure. In this case, they did want to stay on company turf, but they opted to try to go to a non-CO station b/c it could give them some more time to circle.

  4. Michael C. Berch says:

    I think the real cause of this incident is the low status
    and working conditions of pilots flying for regional and commuter
    carriers. If that had been a mainline CO aircraft (or any of the
    major network carriers) I believe the captain would have called
    airport ops and said, “I am the pilot in command of this aircraft and
    my passengers and I WILL BE DEPLANING. Have a jetway (or airstairs)
    ready, because we’re parking at Gate ___.” And his company would have
    backed him up. (I guess airstairs in this case if the jetways were all in use.)

    But I imagine that the ExpressJet captain and FO were worried that
    they would have been fired or disciplined if they had done that. In
    some ways it’s related to the root cause of the Colgan crash in
    Buffalo.

    One of my former apartment mates had been a commuter pilot for Great
    Lakes, and besides a salary of $18,000/year (eek!) the pilots were
    treated not much better than burger-flippers at McDonalds. He left
    Great Lakes to be a paramedic, which he said was a *much* better job,
    even though he loved to fly.

  5. Barry says:

    It was fear that the TSA would tell them they did something wrong…period. When you have such a heavy handed gov. then people won’t make sensible decisions!

  6. @ Michael C. Berch:
    “I am the pilot in command of this aircraft and
    my passengers and I WILL BE DEPLANING. Have a jetway (or airstairs)
    ready, because we’re parking at Gate ___.” And his company would have
    backed him up. (I guess airstairs in this case if the jetways were all in use.)

    But I imagine that the ExpressJet captain and FO were worried that
    they would have been fired or disciplined if they had done that. In
    some ways it’s related to the root cause of the Colgan crash in
    Buffalo.

    Good Point…because it will cost the company money..as always.

  7. steve says:

    Its simple, the crew should have declared an emergency, because it was an emergency: by definintion: a state, esp. of need for help or relief, created by some unexpected event: ie: a weather emergency.

    Police have keys to the airport, firefighters have a ladder. The crew has carte blanche to do whatever they need to do once declaring the emergency and the TSA can’t touch them. Afterwards you might have to do a carpet dance, but it would have been worth it.

  8. SD Flyer says:

    This is why Americans are scared when government takes over certain function in society; they all go by the book and as said in the article, lose common sense.

    I also don’t understand why the operator of this airport is not to blame for this disaster.

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  10. Joseph Blazewicz says:

    Making a 3hrs law is one thing and enforcing it is another. There should be a law on this matter.

  11. CF says:

    Joseph Blazewicz wrote:

    Making a 3hrs law is one thing and enforcing it is another. There should be a law on this matter.

    What good is a law if you can’t enforce it?

  12. KT says:

    I continue to say…..

    After 2 hours…ask the flight attandant to get off the plane.

    When refused…..USE YOUR CELL PHONE

    Call 911

    Tell the answering operator that you are being held against your will – AKA hostage – by the airline

    Call 411 and get the phone number for the local TV and Radio station

    Call both and tell them you are being held against your willl

    The more people do this, the less likely this will occur

  13. steve says:

    That sounds terrible. Every time I fly, I spend half the time asking myself why I did this to myself again. I hope we finally get some bullet trains in this country!

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