Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Continental flight "stranding" may be a good thing

If it were a bad made-for-TV movie, it might be called "The Stranding of Flight 2816."

Last week, a Continental Airlines flight spent nine hours on the tarmac while trying to fly from Houston to Minneapolis. Thunderstorms forced the plane to divert to Rochester, MN, where it sat on the tarmac—full of passengers—overnight until it finally deplaned the passengers after seven hours. The airline then waited another couple of hours, reboarded the passengers and completed the flight to Minneapolis.

That's the thumbnail version of the story. But when you start peeling back the layers, more and more outrageous details emerge.

- The Continental plane had only one lavatory, and at some time during the night, it stopped flushing and began to stink up the cabin.

- The plane was only 85 miles from its final destination, which means the airline could have easily put passengers on a bus instead.

- Continental's regional partner ExpressJet (which operated this flight) claimed that the airport was not staffed or set up appropriately at that time of night to deplane passengers safely. According to the manager of the airport, however, there was plenty of staff on hand—ground handlers from Delta Airlines, in fact, repeatedly volunteered to help—and a secure area in the airport was available, where security re-screening would not have been necessary.

- In fact, a Northwest Airlines flight was diverted to Rochester after the Continental flight, and they were able to deplane—and the airline made the decision to bus the passengers on to Minneapolis (where they arrived at about the same time the Continental passengers were just being let off the plane for the first time).

- Tellingly, the flight crew on the Northwest flight had "timed out"—that is, they had reached the maximum time they were allowed to fly. So, if a timed-out crew can be deplaned, but passengers with a crew that isn't timed out have to endure hours of wailing babies and overflowing toilets, it certainly leaves the impression that airline labor issues are more important than concern for passengers' well being.

As the title of this blog posting suggests, there may actually be some good news out of all this, believe it or not. The Obama administration is investigating the incident to determine if any laws were broken. More importantly, the incident may be the final push needed to pass the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate in 2007. Among other things, the legislation would mandate deplaning of passengers after a three-hour wait on the tarmac. (Continental already has a policy for doing so "if it is safe," but this incident clearly shows the judgment of the airline's dispatchers can't be relied upon in all cases.)

Enough is enough.

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Blogger usamctwo said...

Continental Airlines is the one I have "status' with. Unfortunately, there are horror stories with pretty much ALL airlines in the States. If you refused to fly with each after an incident, you'll be either staying home or driving everywhere!

You would think that all the bad press that occurs after one of these stranded on the plane incidents would make an airline do their best to not let it happen again. They never learn.

August 14, 2009 at 12:28 PM  

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