Plane Stuck on Tarmac: A Familiar Tale

August 11th, 2009 by

(MYFOX NATIONAL) - The story is fast becoming a familiar tale — passengers stuck on a plane for hours on the tarmac with no way of getting out. And each time a new incident emerges, it only invites public anger and renewed calls for passenger rights.

The lastest outrage involved 47 passengers who were trapped on an ExpressJet plane in Rochester, Minn. , for 9 hours on Friday. The plane was originally flying from Houston to Minneapolis, but stopped in Rochester because of bad weather. The crew decided to wait out the storms, but eventually a new crew had to be flown in because the existing crew had reached its maximum work hours. ExpressJet told passengers they couldn’t be let off the plane because they would have to be rescreened before getting back on, but there were no screeners working at the time.

Instead passengers were subjected to “crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets.”

“It’s not like you’re on a [Boeing] 747 and you can walk around,” passenger Link Christin told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune . “This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they’ve got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.”

Rochester International Airport manager Steve Leqve told the Post-Bulletin that there was no reason passengers couldn’t leave the plane. “They wouldn’t have had to go through security. They could have come into the airport,” he said.

ExpressJet said it will “fully investigate the issue since this does not meet our standards for customer service.”

Over the years, there have been a number of infamous incidents involving passengers getting stuck on planes. Among them:

Northwest Airlines, January 1999
Thousands of passengers were stranded on Northwest planes, some up to 8 1/2 hours, on the taxiway after a snowstorm hit Detroit. At the time, there were calls for legislation, but airlines promised they would police themselves.

American Airlines, December 2006
Passengers were stranded on the tarmac for 8 hours in Austin, Texas, after being diverted because of severe weather. .

JetBlue, February 2006
More than 1,000 passengers on nine JetBlue flights were delayed at New York’s Kennedy airport because of a snowstorm. One flight to Aruba was stranded for 11 hours.

Last month USAToday reported data on how many flights were delayed on the tarmac for at least three hours between October 2008 and June 2009. Out of 10,000 flights, ExpressJet had 4.9 flights delayed, Comair had 4.2 flights delayed, Continental had 4.1 flights delayed, Delta had 3.5 flights delayed and JetBlue had 2.8 flights delayed. About 200,000 domestic passengers have been stuck on 3,000 planes for three hours or more. See the full list here .

The latest ExpressJet incident is likely to increase calls for some kind of passenger bill of rights, and ironically enough, legislation is moved through both the House and Senate. For their part though, airlines say letting passengers off and then getting them back on would create even more delays.

“Such a rule would result in numerous unintended consequences that ultimately will create inconveniences for passengers and lead to more flight cancellations,” David Castelveter, vice president of the Air Transport Association of America, which represents U.S. airlines, told USA Today .

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