In fact, the flight crew repeatedly tried to get permission to deplane the passengers at the airport or on a bus.
Now, like many of you, I was outraged when I heard about this incident. And, like many of you, I've read a lot of conflicting stories about what happened that night--and I can appreciate any confusion readers may have. So, here is what our investigation found.
- The local representative of Mesaba Airlines--the only carrier in a position to help the stranded plane--improperly refused the requests of the ExpressJet captain to let her passengers off the plane, telling the captain that the airport was closed to passengers for security reasons.
This is what led to the nightmare for those stuck on the plane.
The Mesaba rep said this apparently because there was no one from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) available to screen passengers. But, in fact, TSA procedures allow passengers to get off the plane, enter the terminal and re-board without being screened again as long as they remain in a secure area.
- While the crew of the Continental Express flight did what they could to assist passengers, more senior personnel within Continental or ExpressJet should have become involved in an effort to obtain permission to take the passengers off the plane.
You know, learning more about the facts of this incident hasn't done a whole lot to temper my anger at the way those passengers were treated. I mean, there was really a complete lack of common sense here. It’s no wonder the flying public is so frustrated.
I will say that this is one of the most thorough investigations ever conducted by the DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office. Members of the Office interviewed passengers, the flight crew, airport personnel and others with knowledge of the situation. They also listened to audio recordings from the aircraft and the dispatcher. In addition, Continental’s customer service commitment, contingency plan for flight delays, and contract of carriage were reviewed.The Aviation Enforcement Office is considering appropriate action to take against Mesaba as it completes the investigation, which it expects to conclude within a few weeks.
As I said in a previous blog post, DOT has proposed regulations requiring airlines to adopt contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays and to incorporate these plans in their contract of carriage, and we have asked for comment on whether rulemaking should set a uniform standard of time after which carriers would be requires to allow passengers to deplane.
What has the flying public gained from this investigation? Our findings will be used to help formulate a final rule that will provide better protection for airline passengers. The bottom line is that commercial aviation is complicated by many factors--weather and security among them. But, that passengers should be treated with respect? That part is simple.