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47 ExpressJet passengers forced to spend night on plane after diversion to RST...

47 ExpressJet passengers forced to spend night on plane after diversion to RST...

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Old Aug 9, 09, 4:32 am
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47 ExpressJet passengers forced to spend night on plane after diversion to RST...

...because the screeners had already gone home for the night.

http://www.startribune.com/local/eas...3aPc:_Yyc:aUUF

47 trapped on 'nightmare' flight to the Twin Cities

Security and rules kept passengers confined all night in a small plane at Rochester due to thunderstorms.

By JEAN HOPFENSPERGER, Star Tribune

Last update: August 8, 2009 - 11:30 PM

When Link Christin boarded a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to the Twin Cities on Friday night, he expected to be on the ground in about three hours and ready for a comfy bed.

Instead, he was among 47 passengers who spent the night trapped inside a small airplane, parked at the Rochester airport, complete with crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets.

The ExpressJet Airlines that operated the plane says the flight was diverted to Rochester because of Twin Cities thunderstorms, and that airline regulations prevented passengers from getting off the plane.

Christin is incredulous that the airline couldn't figure out an option besides trapping passengers on the plane for nine hours.

"It's not like you're on a [Boeing] 747 and you can walk around,'' said Christin, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law. "This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they've got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.''

Continental Airlines, which issued the tickets for Flight 2816, referred inquiries to ExpressJet Airlines. ExpressJet spokesperson Kristy Nicholas said the flight ran into several problems.

The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. The alternative of chartering a bus didn't work out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

What about just letting the passengers sleep in the airport terminal? "That was not provided as an option by ground services personnel at the airport,'' said Nicholas.

The flight left Houston about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Nicholas, and was slated to arrive in the Twin Cities by midnight. But in Minnesota, passengers were told the flight was being diverted to Rochester because of thunderstorms and that it would refuel there, said Christin.

With the plane grounded in Rochester, the clock ticked from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. and beyond. Christin said he tried dozing off. Passengers received no food, except for a bag of pretzels earlier, he said.

And "the smell of the bathroom was getting worse, the smell of the babies was getting worse.''

As light began to fill the cabin around 6 a.m., the plane doors opened and passengers were allowed into the airport terminal, Christin said. The airlines gave them one free beverage, he said. By about 9:30 a.m., the passengers were sent back on the same plane they had spent the night in -- which by this time had no functioning restroom. They landed in the Twin Cities about 11 a.m.

ExpressJet apologizes for the incident, Nicholas said. But passenger safety and the legal requirements of airlines were top priorities.

The attorney also wondered why Continental Airlines was not taking responsibility for the incident.

"My boarding pass has a huge headline saying Continental,'' said Christin. "The flight attendant said, 'Thank you for flying Continental.' The comment cards we were given said Continental. Continental is totally in charge, whether by ownership or agency.''
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Old Aug 9, 09, 5:34 am
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Why would they have to go through screening again?

I would've called 911 and reported a kidnapping.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 5:46 am
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Originally Posted by whirledtraveler View Post
Why would they have to go through screening again?

I would've called 911 and reported a kidnapping.
Me too. No way I'd have put up with that!
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Old Aug 9, 09, 6:35 am
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Originally Posted by wildcatlh View Post
...because the screeners had already gone home for the night.

http://www.startribune.com/local/eas...3aPc:_Yyc:aUUF
Ah, Rochester, Mn. They have drop down gates blocking off the concourse from the terminal. They also have restrooms and vending machines on the concourse. IOW they could have let the people off of the plane and onto the concourse had someone decided to do so. Suggest getting in touch with the Rochester, Mn airport and complaining.

The only good thing about this is that the weather was mild. Had it been January they'd been looking at -20F temps.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 6:48 am
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The other thing is that Rochester has only Delta (NW) and American as resident airlines. That would have resulted in boarding issues (i.e. checking tickets).

If instead of it being a diverted plane an obscenely rich foreigner seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic there would have been measures taken so as to not inconvience the foreigner.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 7:40 am
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So much for the concept of customer service, Express Jet...
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Old Aug 9, 09, 8:44 am
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Originally Posted by IslandBased View Post
So much for the concept of customer service, Express Jet...
I agree with the article. CO has to take responsibility for this. I don't think the passengers have any idea who ExpressJet is.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 8:59 am
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Originally Posted by whirledtraveler View Post
I agree with the article. CO has to take responsibility for this. I don't think the passengers have any idea who ExpressJet is.
Certainly, and something more than a free drink. I'm sure the passengers will never forget their experience. It would make me think very hard before I booked on CO or any subsidiary.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:11 am
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Bad thing is that Hwy 52 goes right by the Rochester airport and is around a 2 hour drive to MPLS. Continental could have done much to make this delay more acceptable to those stranded. Calling the police might have helped. Calling a local TV station would have definately worked.

Last edited by AngryMiller; Aug 9, 09 at 9:12 am Reason: clarity
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:22 am
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I'm still not understanding why they would have had to go through screening to get off the plane. I would think there would be somebody at the airport overnight that could escort the passengers to the terminal. I would also think that an airport would have to have a plan in place in case of a diversion like this.

Is there any place for common sense anymore? Trapping people on a plane for that long would be the last option for me. I think I may have tested the emergency exit door. At least when they took me to jail, I would have food and a working bathroom.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:22 am
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ExpressJet is apparently unafraid of a law suit.

They demonstrated a profound lack of respect for their passengers, and an absence of ingenuity.

1. They do not need to be rescreened. That's absurd.
2. If they need to have their tickets checked, information checked in a computer, etc., I'm SURE that someone on that plane has a phone.

Nine hours on an Embraer is unthinkable. From a safety standpoint, yes, we don't want anyone to fly in dangerous weather. But ExpressJet blatantly ignored the health and safety of its passengers by keeping them trapped in a confined space.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:40 am
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Originally Posted by AngryMiller View Post
Calling the police might have helped. Calling a local TV station would have definately worked.
Calling the cops might have done more, as I doubt anyone is manning the newsroom of a TV station at 2:00 a.m. on a Friday night/Saturday morning.


The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. The alternative of chartering a bus didn't work out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

What about just letting the passengers sleep in the airport terminal? "That was not provided as an option by ground services personnel at the airport,'' said Nicholas.
First, it's kind of funny to see the TSA used as pawns here. Even though what she said about needing to be re-screened is completely untrue, it makes the TSA look bad and that will likely translate into some TSA suits contacting ExpressJet.

Second, the ground services personnel angle is another funny one. Seems that this spokesperson will say anything.

She might have a career as a TSA spokesperson.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:48 am
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Rochester is very concerned about public opinion. Adverse publicity gets results due to the influence the Mayo Clinic has. Calling a local television station might have gotten nowhere, but the possibility of adverse publicity would have people moving heaven and earth.

I've flown out of that airport on many occasions and as to screener politeness, they are pretty good. The know how to properly deal with the elderly and infirm. One call to the Mayo complaining about the screening at Rochester......
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Old Aug 9, 09, 9:55 am
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Originally Posted by LessO2 View Post
Seems that this spokesperson will say anything.
That's their job, they make it up as they go along.

The statement makes it sound as if all the options and outcomes were decided at once. It didn't happen like that, the passengers were no doubt strung along with one 'announcement' after another. Standard airline technique to avoid instant insurrection

I doubt there was anyone around the airport at that time. ExpressJet may have tried to get hold of ground crew, terminal staff, charter a bus etc. or they may simply have done nothing at all and made up a cover story afterwards. They need to work on their stories though.
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Old Aug 9, 09, 10:13 am
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Originally Posted by Wally Bird View Post
It didn't happen like that, the passengers were no doubt strung along with one 'announcement' after another. Standard airline technique to avoid instant insurrection
Good point. And I'm guessing there's general agreement that being stuck on an EMB for nine hours is a lot worse than being stuck in a terminal listening to those incremental delay announcements.

The episode described in the article is infuriating, and the money-quote "But passenger safety and the legal requirements of airlines were top priorities...." is a highlight, or do I mean lowlight?

If I'm stuck in such a situation in the future, what specific steps could I take? Will I get anywhere calling 911 after, say, four hours or so of "involuntary confinement?" Should I call friends and ask them to contact a media outlet wherever I'm being held? Are there any phone numbers (e.g. home numbers for airline CEOs )to keep handy in the cell phone? All suggestions welcome!

Cheers,
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