Passengers Kept Captive on Diverted Plane

By | August 10, 2009
Continental Express CRJ
Image by Kevin Boydston via Flickr

Passengers on a Continental Express flight from Houston to Minneapolis spent the night on a regional jet parked at Rochester MN Airport. The plane was operated by Expressjet, and Chris Elliott rightly asked who was in charge. The plane is branded Continental, it was sold by Continental, yet operated by Expressjet, a somewhat independent company. Continental shoving responsibility to their subcontractor is not a good public relations move, even if Expressjet is liable.

The plane was diverted to Rochester and landed around midnight. The plane didn’t leave to return to Minneapolis till 9:30AM. Expressjet claimed security screeners were not available, then that the airport were closed. However, airport spokespeople dispute this. A Northwest plane was allowed to deplane at 3AM, that had landed just before the Continental jet. They were not allowed to exit the plane till 6:30.

Once deplaned, they were quarantined at a gate area and not allowed to move freely around the terminal. Security guards at the airport were instructed to do this by the flight crew, not the airport, for reasons unknown, before the crew left the airport for mandatory rest. The passengers received no refreshments, and the bathroom overflowed. Expressjet claimed it was unable to find a bus to charter to transport them by ground.

It took until 9:30 for a replacement crew to arrive to continue the trip…with the bathroom still out of order. Not a shining moment for Expressjet or Continental. It is this sort of thing that makes people think Congress should get involved, because the airlines can’t ensure horror stories like this don’t happen.

Update: Continental has agreed to give all passengers an apology, a full refund, and a certificate good for future travel. The TSA has blogged that despite the airline insisting they could not offload passengers till TSA screeners arrived, no request was made to the TSA to recall their screeners, and that the passengers did not have to be screened as long as they stayed in the secure area of the airport. Thus, had they been released inside the secure zone, they could have stayed there, or taken outside it, waited outside till the screeners returned.

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