Rochester airport nightmare earns airlines $100,000 fine


Two airlines involved in stranding passengers in a jet on a Rochester International Airport tarmac last August are being fined $100,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's the first time DOT has punished carriers for extended tarmac delays.

Continental Express flight 2816 was diverted to Rochester on Aug. 8 due to bad weather in Minneapolis. It landed at about 12:30 a.m., but the 47 passengers aboard were not allowed of the aircraft until  6:15 a.m.

In addition to the fines levied against Continental Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines, DOT also fined Mesaba Airlines $75,000 for its role in handling baggage for the flight.

There was no security detail on duty at the airport when the flight landed, and DOT says there was confusion as to whether that meant that the passengers should be allowed off the plane and into the terminal:

Shortly after the flight arrived in Rochester, the ExpressJet captain asked the Mesaba employee handling the flight whether the passengers could deplane into the airport terminal.  In response to this initial inquiry, and other subsequent inquiries, the captain was told that passengers could not enter the terminal because there were no Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners on duty at that hour, despite the fact that TSA rules would have allowed the passengers to enter the airport as long as they remained in a sterile area.

"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.

Continental has already provided a full refund to each passenger and offered additional compensation to acknowledge their waste of time and discomfort.

The full DOT statement can be read here.