The continuing decline of basic comfort and civility in air travel has been a source of continued complaint on this blog and other sites. Many have complained about how they book a flight with a major airline only to be shoved on to some small puddle jumper run by an unknown carrier. Then there are the horror stories of being held for hours on planes on the tarmac. A new story involving Continental Airlines Flight 2816 combines all of these problems into a nightmare where passengers were left on a plane with malfunctioning toilets overnight after being diverted from their intended airport. They were held overnight because the flight crew was over their limit for flying and the security staff at the airport had gone home for the night.
While consumer advocates have tried for years to get real legal rights and causes of action against airlines, this powerful lobby has blocked every substantive effort — even as the public helped the airlines with massive financial assistance.
This case shows how people have become little more than cargo in the eyes of airlines. The 47 passengers took off from Houston to go to Minneapolis. While they purchased their tickets from Continental, they were put on an ExpressJet flight. Due to thunderstorms, they were diverted to Rochester. However, once they landed, the crew had reached their maximum number of hours and were not allowed to fly any further. Moreover, the security staff at the airport had gone home for the night, so the staff refused to allow the passengers to leave the small plane with a number of crying children and malfunctioning toilets. They remained there overnight. They were given one snack and one free drink during their ordeal. In the morning, they were briefly allowed into the airport before being put on the same plane (with the broken toilets) for the flight to Minneapolis.
Beyond the huge support of the airline lobby, one of the reasons why Congress may not be willing to act on real protections for passengers is that they have their own fleet of luxury planes for junkets and just called for over a half billion dollars to expand their fleet of jets. Indeed, given how horrible the economy is and how horrible commercial air travel has become, one could blame the members for wanting the public to buy them luxury jets to go on European vacations?
After shoving its passengers on to the ExpressAir flight, Continental is now referring any inquiring to that airline.
For the full story, click here.
26 thoughts on “Flight 2816: Continental Takes Passengers For a Ride”
Oh, Keith’ll be interested in this for WPitW!
That’s what I feared. The bonds for airports are guaranteed by rents and landing fees paid by the airlines. Taxpayers don’t build airports, airlines do.
There are funds that come from FAA for air traffic control and development — a drop in the bucket, and mostly from fees airlines pay to FAA.
In contrast to railroads, for example, who were given vast tracts of land to build railroads through them, or trucking companies, who run on roads built by taxes from everybody, airlines are on their own. They do not take tax money to build airports and runways, probably for 90% of the costs. Maybe more.
The airplane made an air traffic control system landing at an airport it was not scheduled to land at. Who do you think had the information on when the weather would clear? Who had the information on when the airplane would be allowed to head to its original destination? When was that information available?
While I agree completely that the situation is horrible and I do not think there is a good defense for why the rules were not violated, I understand that no person had the information necessary to make the case to Homeland Security to get those people off the airplane.
And if there is no one at the airport to get the plane to a gate, to ground the airplane so passengers are not electrocuted as they debark, to get stairs to the airplane so they don’t fall to the ground (this one may have had some stairs built in — what was the model?), it’s all but impossible for a pilot without fuel, without a manned tower, without good access to ATC, to get anything done.
Here’s an example: Ogden, Utah, is the nearest commercial airport to Salt Lake City to be used if SLC is socked in with fog, or other weather. But Ogden has no Jetways, and Ogden has no stairs adequate to serve any commercial airplane operated by Southwest, nor most of the jets operated by American or Delta.
How are you going to get those passengers off the airplane safely?
I’m not trying to place blame on anyone who isn’t blameworthy. It’s also silly to claim that airlines get subsidies they do not get. Commercial airports are built with revenues from airlines, not from tax funds. It’s silly and inexcusable to try to blame airlines for having money they do not have, and worse for blaming them for getting a subsidy when they in fact paid the money out of their revenues, a negative subsidy.
The next poster notes a bailout from 8 years ago that I’d forgotten about. Federal funds were used to keep the airlines alive for about three months after September 11, 2001, when insurance companies cancelled policies on airlines, which then required banks to cancel financing, which made operating an airline fiscally impossible. Note carefully that the amount of money appropriated — $5 billion or so — was insufficient to keep airlines operating at full schedule, and insufficient to keep airlines from having to make massive layoffs.
Someone on that airplane — the pilot, perhaps — should have raised holy hell with Continentals flight ops office until something was done. For all we know, he tried.
Here’s a question: How much can an air traffic clerk in Houston do to get the federal government and private concessions and local airport authorities in Rochester, Minnesota, to open the terminal and gear up all the airport facilities needed to relieve one airplane? Get on the phone to Rochester’s airport just after midnight Central time, see what you can learn.
I guess you have missed a number of Government Bailouts of the Airline:
US bails out airlines, ignores plight of workers
By Patrick Martin
26 September 2001
The $15 billion bailout of the US airline industry, passed by Congress on the weekend and signed into law by President Bush on Monday, awards massive and immediate aid to a handful of giant corporations while providing not one penny to hundreds of thousands of workers whose jobs and livelihoods have been destroyed in the wake of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
If you don’t like the above here is another one for you.
Airline Industry 2001 The terrorist attacks of September 11 crippled an already financially troubled industry. To bail out the airlines, President Bush signed into law the Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act, which compensated airlines for the mandatory grounding of aircraft after the attacks. The act released $5 billion in compensation and an additional $10 billion in loan guarantees or other federal credit instruments. (What happened after the bailout?) $18.6 billion
I did mean to include Lockheed Martin in the bail out back in 71, saved jobs in California. Almost 2 billion. But if it were today how many Billions would be needed?
Ed Darrell, I believe that the people who pay for terminals are the same people who pay for NBA and NFL stadiums. I believe they are called taxpayers. “Bailouts” for many commercial ventures are called “bonds” issued and guaranteed by governments and paid out of taxes or revenues from leases and concession contracts.
In the case at hand, the airline would have known what the wait would be. They simply chose not to tell the passengers, for fear that they would have to put everybody in a hotel overnight. The whole thing is inexcusable and attempting to place blame on the government for this one is silly.
What do you mean, “financial assistance?”
The airlines pay for the the tarmac. They pay for the terminals. They pay for the air traffic control system, such as it is.
Did I miss a bailout bill somewhere? What are you talking about?
The Global War On terror has succeeded in making people shut up and take it for fear of being arrested or tasered. To shut down the activist consumer who rightly complains about indecencies and injustices is surely its greatest corporate achievement.
And who was responsible for Airline Deregulation? Oh yes, That one that said the Trickle Down Theory was good for the country. It been so bad that I have reached for my Depends. But that Depends on what is Trickling.
The core protection these passengers need is protection from the government, not the airline.
Who requires flight crews to “expire”, without any possibility of an exception for an extraordinary circumstance like this? The government.
Who requires that these passengers be re-screened at their non-scheduled airport when they have already been screened prior to boarding? The government.
Who then sets the schedule and availability of TSA employees when the FAA (the government) diverts flights to area airports? The government.
Can I have this case? Pretty please? Anybody want to own an airline?
The efficiency gained by multiple passengers will not translate to savings. Your argument only works if they are leasing the planes and regular maintenance goes to the leasing company. No matter what you’d like to characterize this as, it is closer to a private fleet than fractional ownership no matter how many people sit on a flight.
“They also expect to be working during their flight, and be able to hold discussions about sensitive issues without competitors or press overhearing them.”
Good luck with that. I’ll assume you’re an honest man having little or no knowledge of spy tech, so I’ll tell you this for free. It’s much easier to plant a bug or recording device than a bomb. Easier to build (you’d be absolutely shocked what you can do with a cheap cell phone), easier to conceal, easier to plant, easier to get an operative TO plant.
This is why essential national services should never remain privatized.
I fly Continental regularly, since i live in a suburb of Houston. When I go to the continental.com website to book flights, every flight is clearly identified as to who actually operates it. Everyone knows up front whether they’re on a full size (737 and larger) or ergional jet. In addition to Congress preferring luxury taxpayer provided private jets, these scoundrels who supposedly represent “the people” also probably have taken the 15-25% in taxes on every ticket and supposedly set aside for security and aiprort facilities and spent it on other things. Probably to buy votes by providing “pork” to their districts. This is more of a government problem than an airline problem. and one other tiny detail as to why airlines have had to cut costs — the continued prohibition of drilling for oil on the US continental shelf helpss keep jet fuel prices higher than they otherwise might be. So another type of federal government malfeasance contributes to the sorry financial state of the airlines, thus the need to cut costs wherever possible.
Think fractional jet ownership. Also consider that these people tend to not fly alone, but with an entourage. They also expect to be working during their flight, and be able to hold discussions about sensitive issues without competitors or press overhearing them.
Doesn’t this qualify as kidnapping? What if a passenger had used their cell phone to call 911 and report that they were being held against their will? What would the police have done?
Felonious or unlawful restraint, also known as simple kidnapping, is the unlawful restraint of a person that exposes the victim to physical harm or places the victim in Slavery. It is a lesser form of kidnapping because it does not require restraint for a specified period or specific purpose (such as to secure money or commit a felony).
Screw the illogical TSA rules and security excuses–the captain has the ultimate responsibility for the safety and well being of the passengers, and leaving them trapped overnight in an RJ with no food and limited sanitation is unacceptable. At any moment, the captain could have demanded a stair or threatened to evacuate the aircraft. (This RJ is so close to the ground you don’t really need stairs; there aren’t even slides.)
The truth is that the airlines and the crews look the other way in these situations because the airline can avoid landing fees/taxes and the crews get paid massive overtime when pax are stranded on the tarmac.
The passengers should have called 911 and said they were being held hostage, and then if that didn’t work, should have simply evacuated the aircraft. 47 pax vs 2 pilots and an FA–pax are going to win as there aren’t enough crew members to “guard” all 4 exits. Crews in these hostages situation should lose their federal protection and ability to claim “interference with a flight crew;” when you’re held on the tarmac, they’re not a flight crew; they’re hostage takers.
The cockpit crew and anyone on duty at that airport that night should be fired immediately and held personally liable for civil damages from the pax.
“That’s why the question isn’t whether they have a private jet or fly commercial, it’s whether they have a private jet or charter every flight. I suspect the former is cheaper in the long run.”
Then you have no idea how much it costs just to keep a plane sitting idle. Hangar space, fuel (which has to be maintained flying or not unless the plane is mothballed), regular maintenance costs (expensive little jets have expensive big maintenance) and keeping pilots on standby (which you know they would do), negates any time savings you might encounter by avoiding lines. By a long shot.
It may be time to give the “half a billion dollars boondoggle” a rest.
If the news report I saw is accurate those eight planes REPLACE SEVEN PLANES THAT ARE SMALLER AND MORE EXPENSIVE TO OPERATE. I don’t know if those planes will be sold or just transfered to other agencies or states, but the impression I got from the article is that they’ll be taken out of the current service.
As an aside, I never understood the argument against business jets. Yes, they can be and are abused. But think of the trouble the general public has flying commercially and then try to imagine running a very large business in these conditions. Can you imaging missing a meeting to discuss a billion dollar project because you’re stuck on the tarmac for hours? That’s why the question isn’t whether they have a private jet or fly commercial, it’s whether they have a private jet or charter every flight. I suspect the former is cheaper in the long run.
I was stuck in DFW for 9 hours one time, in the plane, waiting for de-icing rigs.
From experience I say this: Keeping people on a plane like that is begging for trouble. Either get them off the plane and into the building to await screening or get those lazy mouth breathing half-wits at TSA out of bed and back on the damn job. What? They couldn’t read the schedule of incoming flights? Are airlines now scheduling flights based on TSA whim? If a flight is weather delayed, do the TSA nitwits go home when the clock hits a specific time?
Lazy shift workers and incompetent management is the issue here. There is no other issue other than false imprisonment and pissed off passengers. I’m betting even the airline is unhappy about this little episode of “Draconian Stupidity Theater”.
I would put free bird on here but decided against it. I cannot imagine the hell that these people felt. A Grayhound on a Tarmac is all I can think of? Were the people allowed to smoke while stuck?
I can’t imagine that experience–thanks for linking this story.
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