How does this still happen nowadays?

Check out this Star Tribune article about an ExpressJet ERJ (operating on behalf of Continental) diverting to Rochester. Basically passengers were stuck in this absolute torture tube of a plane overnight. Of course no one accepts responsibility, and as it turns out this was in the interest of the safety of passengers:

But passenger safety and the legal requirements of airlines were top priorities.

What am I missing here? I’ve been in a CRJ for six hours once, but that was because of bad weather at JFK, and at the four hour mark we returned to the gate. That’s about all I was going to tolerate. What I don’t understand, though, is how passengers tolerated this. Are you friggin’ kidding me? I would have called 911 to start with, and take it from there. Literally trapping passengers in an ERJ overnight is TORTURE in the highest form.

This is why we need a passenger bill of rights….

Filed Under: Continental, Media
  1. This was completely mishandled and the excuses are absolutely ludicrous.

    But “[t]his is why we need a passenger bill of rights….” seems a bit ham-handed in response. Whenever a terrible situation happens, a “passengers bill of rights” is an easy response. What’s in that Bill? Some law that bad stuff won’t be allowed to happen again, of course!

    Just like something bad happens with medical care and THAT is somehow support for health care reform, the black box of which is whatever happens to solve the problem the complainant is worried about. [Leaving aside debates about the merits of any given reform proposal.]

    Reality is that legislation bares little resemblance to the problems that any given person is concerned about. And the legislative process gets hijacked for the benefit of whomever influences the legislators doing the writing.

    I *GUARANTEE* that the solution will be worse than the cure. Ham-handed rules caused this problem, the solution isn’t going to be an additional set of ham-handed rules.

    Either you’ll get something meaningless, something Kate Hanni-esque that’s actually harmful, or you’ll get unintended consequences that makes air ravel more cumbersome.

    I guess my point is simply this: it isn’t useful to support a ‘passenger bill of rights’ in the generic. It is only useful to propose a specific policy or set of rules, and debate those..

  2. Gary, so you think mandating certain things like food and water are a bad solution? I have an idea. Let’s put you in a regional jet for a week with a glass of water. Obviously no one wants to take responsibility for things like food, water, and waiting times. As long as no one specific person or company is forced to take responsibility, nothing’s ever going to change. That’s the beauty of huge corporations and faceless bureaucracies being in charge of your life.

  3. Blandon wrote: “Gary, so you think mandating certain things like food and water are a bad solution?”

    Wow, talk about taking his comments way out of context. In fact, Gary wrote that “It is only useful to propose a specific policy or set of rules, and debate those.” Did he ever write anywhere that mandating food/water in such a situation was a poor solution? He’s referring to the generic term that is bandied about with no real substance. He’s referring to the politically-motivated items, not necessarily beneficial to the passengers, which are sure to be embedded in any proposed legislation.

  4. I think there are two things to be outraged about here:

    First, the way the passengers were mistreated during the diversion. While the intent of the diversion was to avoid dangerous weather, the way they were treated once on the ground was outrageous. Passengers need to have basic rights on planes, and unfortunately they still don’t.

    Second, I also think Continental needs to own all the blame. Their name is painted on the outside, in the biggest letters. It is a real scandal that major airlines claim they fly these routes, then subcontract the flying to regionals, and run for the exits whenever there’s a problem. I would like to see this practice banned, if it can be done in a way that does not also mean the end of codesharing between majors.

    Reforms need to be put in place. The FAA has proven unable to get anything done for at least 10 years, but that does not mean we should give in to the status quo.. We must continue to publicize cases of gross negligence by airlines, we must insist on basic rights when they mistreat us, and we must vote with our wallets when they don’t.

  5. Agreed 100% — passenger treatment here was abominable. Agree further that Continental owns the actions of its contract express carriers.

    Here’s the thing, though, before we clamor for government to fix this supposed failing of industry.

    While it’s completely true that the carrier was anything but entrepreneurial in solving the problem, what happened was

    1. the government airport apparently didn’t want to let the passengers into the terminal

    2. government rules require that if the passengers go landside they have to be rescreened

    3. the government wasn’t about to make itself available to rescreen until morning,

    4. government rules forbade the pilots to fly the passengers anywhere else

    Now, many of these rules may be in place for more reasons. And in light of these rules the players found themselves either powerless or believing themselves powerless. I’m not sure the answer then is an additional layer of rules.

    Or at least I think any discussion of what the new rule ought to be needs to be really really specific and vetted. Should the pilot be given authority to re-open the airport? How does he get airport personnel onto the scene? And who pays? Should the pilot be given authority to let passengers out onto the tarmac when the airport is closed?

    Lots of things should have been done differently here. But without proactive action on the part of the airport, what should the airline have done? Not enough to say “make the airport re-open” as they don’t have the power.

    Based on what I know of this incident I blame the airport. I suppose I blame the airline too for not being louder and kicking and screaming and finding the airport authority head AT HOME to make that person take action as well…

  6. it’s too bad that the people who write the laws, and the people who manage the airlines in positions of power don’t have to put up with being treated like this. If they did, this would never happen. I wish we could ban all lawmakers and airline upper management from flying anything but commercial Y class. Then things would change. Of course that will never happen. Passenger bill of rights is necessary and should explicitly outline consequences for common customer complaints just like the IDB laws do. I think that would make things like this and other travel annoyances happen a lot less often, or else I would have enough travel credits to fly a zillion miles a year.

    People are so angry about their experiences with the airlines these days. And we can’t “vote with our wallets” because ALL of the domestic airlines are pulling the same stuff. The industry has to change. For example – when I look at the price of a ticket to get in to Disneyland, I think “wow, that’s an outrageous price” but once I’m in, the company meets all of my customer service expectations. Then, Disneyland makes a profit. I usually pay about $250 for a transcon air ticket. If my airline of choice suddenly set their lowest fare at $550 but delivered friendly service, great food, clean aircraft, efficient checkin/boarding/inflight service and AVOD at every coach seat with “E+” room at every seat, I’d be glad to pay it! Appropriate marketing to alert me to the reason for the higher fare would be necessary. As an experiment, they could try this on one route and see if it worked. I think they’d be pleasantly surprised. Of course I think United did this with p.s. (kind of) and it worked. Then for some reason they keep scaling back the service and price. I really dont understand why. Oh well.

  7. Gary’s right when he says that “it isn’t useful to support a ‘passenger bill of rights’ in the generic. It is only useful to propose a specific policy or set of rules.”

    And that’s exactly what seems to be happening here.

    The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act now pending in the House would require airlines to submit to the DOT plans to provide passengers on long-grounded aircraft with food, water, ventilation, restrooms, and medical services. The bill would also require airports to submit plans for the off-loading of passengers following a long tarmac delay. The companion bill in the Senate sets out similar proposed policies. (As you’d probably expect, the stand-alone legislation (H.R. 624 and S. 213) doesn’t seem to have moved, but the FAA reauthorization act includes similar provisions and is making progress.)

    Each airline and airport would be free to craft its own policies to comply with the law, so any ham-handed response would be largely the work of airline executives or airport authorities, not the DOT, as you seem to fear.

    Will there be unintended consequences? Absolutely, just as the current system creates the unintended consequence of people being trapped on a regional jet overnight in some instances.

    This is a case where I’ll take the devil I don’t know over the devil I do.

  8. @Gary – new datapoints today re: accountability of the government and the airport:

    1. Airport manager contests Continental and ExpressJet claim that the airport couldn’t allow them into a secure area and was unwilling. He says this was possible and offered to the airline.

    2. Airport manager says DL/NW had a flight that was diverted 30 mins prior, and they arranged a bus for a ~90 mile ride. DL offered seats on that bus to CO. CO *declined* the seats on that bus.

    Delta’s passengers made it to Minneapolis at 1:30am. Continental’s passengers, around 10:00am. If true that CO declined seats offered by DL/NW and the airport, I would not blame this one on the government or the airport.

    Also, today, Continental accepts some blame, offers refunds etc. Okay…

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