You would think after all the horror stories since September of 2001 about passengers trapped in airplanes sitting on the tarmac, going nowhere, that the sort of thing that happened in Rochester, Minnesota a few days ago would NEVER happen. Not in 2009, after all the harangue and to-do about people trapped on airliners going nowhere, and with federal legislation pending about such incidents.
American citizens, held captive on an American airliner (OK, a Continental Express airliner), on American soil. For hours and hours and hours, with common sense nowhere to be found.
Don’t blame the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration, which Continental tried to do. Don’t blame Rochester airport management, which Continental tried to do. The airport manager woke to a cell phone call at 4AM Saturday from an acquaintance trapped on the plane, begging for his help. A couple hours later, they were finally off the plane after the night from hell.
Bad weather diverted the flight, bound from Texas to Minneapolis, to Rochester. Good call. Who wants to fly through violent storms? The passengers figured they’d be on the ground an hour or so, while the storms to the north cleared. Nope. Locked in the airliner ALL NIGHT LONG.
Locked in with one semi-working toilet, which didn’t flush, and not one but two crying babies for your listening pleasure. 8 hours of olfactory and auditory torture. A period of time, seemingly interminable, I assume, for the 50 people on board, which could have been avoided with a small amount of what we used to call common sense.
While Continental has tried to blame everybody from the TSA to the airport to the crying babies, the US Transportation Department’s General Counsel has been directed to investigate the debacle, and a couple of Senators quickly saw it as a media photo-op to push passage of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.
By the time the storms had cleared Minneapolis, the crew of the airliner had exceeded the number of hours they’re allotted by FAA rules, so Continental dispatch in Minneapolis said it would send another crew. Why couldn’t the passengers get off the plane, and spend the night in the terminal, a few feet away? The geniuses at Continental Dispatch gave some idiotic response like “the TSA isn’t on duty until 6 AM at Rochester, so if they got off the plane, they wouldn’t be allowed to re-board without going through TSA security”.
So the Continental brain-trust in Minneapolis kept the passengers locked in the plane all night long. Meanwhile, a Northwest airliner which had met a similar fate, had the passengers on their plane grounded at Rochester aboard a bus and in Minneapolis hours before the Continental passengers were even allowed to get off their plane.
As a grizzled veteran street cop who’s a pal of mine often jokes, “let’s get those guilty bastards in here, give ‘em a quick fair trial, and then hang ‘em!!!”. I have a different idea.
Let’s put those Continental Airlines Minneapolis dispatchers into the same situation they put 50 people through last weekend and see how THEY like it.