Passenger rights groups are applauding the Department of Transportation's decision to levy $175,000 in fines after 47 passengers were held onboard a regional jet overnight on the ramp at Rochester, Minn., on Aug. 8. The DOT fined Continental Airlines and ExpressJet, who operated Continental Express Flight 2816 from Houston with an intended destination of Minneapolis-St. Paul. It fined Mesaba Airlines, which provided ground handling services for the Rochester Airport, $75,000 for its role in the incident, which resulted in the passengers being confined to the aircraft from about 12:30 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. "I hope that this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We will also use what we have learned from this investigation to strengthen protections for airline passengers subjected to long tarmac delays." The plane was diverted to Rochester because of bad weather and that's when a bad night got worse for the pax, according to the DOT.
As he taxied to the terminal, the aircraft captain asked to deplane the passengers but the ground crew refused because there were no Transportation Security Administration staff in the airport at that hour. The captain tried several times but eventually had to take no for an answer even though TSA rules would have allowed the passengers to get off as long as they were kept in a sterile area of the airport. It's the first time airlines have been punished for a ramp delay, Lahood said.