Nightmare on a plane

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009

The miserable night 47 unlucky passengers spent in a cramped airplane at an airport in Rochester, Minn., last Friday makes the case yet again for the need for a law establishing passengers' rights while traveling.

Bad luck mixed with bad choices to set up this nightmare. Continental Airlines Flight 2816 was forced to land in Rochester around midnight Friday to refuel. At the same time, the flight crew had reached its maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in, which meant a long delay on the ground.

But ExpressJet Airlines, which operated the Continental flight, refused to let passengers off the plane because the Transportation Safety Administration screeners had gone home. Legally, disembarking passengers wouldn't have been able to reboard the plane without going through security again.

Still, how about letting passengers make their own call on whether to disembark and wait for another flight?

Nothing doing, said ExpressJet officials, because the airport didn't have enough personnel on staff at that hour to let passengers sleep in the terminal. This assumption was later disputed by the airport's director, who said the passengers would have been welcomed and would have had access to food in vending machines, etc.

So the 47 passengers were stuck on the plane for 6 ½ hours with nothing more to eat than the pretzels handed out before the flight was forced to land.

This is no way to treat paying customers. Accommodations should have been made to let passengers leave the plane and be comfortable for the duration of the delay. Whatever happened to putting the customer first?

Congress, get busy. We need a passengers' bill of rights to spare the flying public from bad management decisions and callous rules.

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