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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.

Slumber Party Guide

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]

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