Continental, ExpressJet Fined $100,000 For Tarmac Delay Incident

Back in August, Continental and its partner, ExpressJet kept 47 passengers, including some babies, on a plane for 11 hours with only some pretzels to eat. A few days later, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was looking in to the issue. Last week, the DOT announced that the Aviation Enforcement Office (AEO) had fined Continental Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines $100,000 for their involvement in the incident.

In addition to the fines to those airlines, the AEO also fined Mesaba Airlines $75,000. Mesaba provided ground handling for the flight.

Passengers will also be given a full refund as well as “additional compensation to materially acknowledge their discomfort.” Mr. LaHood did not elaborate on what that compensation might be, but he did sound a little ticked off at the airlines involved.

LaHood writes:

Look, this is just no way to treat passengers, customers, or anyone. You can’t strand people overnight without access to the basics. It’s not right; it’s against the rules; and I am proud of the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office for its investigation into the complaints of these travelers and for its responsiveness.

The Dallas Morning News has the airlines’ responses.

Here’s Continental’s:

“Continental agreed to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT)’s consent order to avoid costly litigation. As found by the DOT in its investigation, our regional carrier, ExpressJet, worked throughout the night to safely deplane the customers at the earliest possible time yet was unable to do so because the ground handler failed to provide reasonable assistance and accurate information. Accordingly, the fines to Continental and ExpressJet were less than the fine to Delta Connection.

“Continental takes responsibility for the care of its customers, whether they are on our regional partners’ flights or our own. We continue to work with our regional partners and ground handling agents to reinforce our Customer First commitments and ensure these types of situations are handled safely in a manner that is consistent with these commitments in the future.”

Aviation Enforcement Office sets precedent with Flight 2816 tarmac-delay fines [DOT Blog]
What others had to say in DOT fine case [Dallas Morning News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. diasdiem says:

    When will they finally pass a passenger bill of rights?

  2. Cant_stop_the_rock says:

    “Even though the DOT alleged a violation by ExpressJet, the consent order makes clear that while the aircraft was in Rochester, ExpressJet consistently requested to deplane customers into the closed airport terminal building.

    “The DOT correctly found that the ground handler, Mesaba Airlines, provided inaccurate information to ExpressJet causing the customers to remain onboard the aircraft. The DOT levied a $75,000 penalty against Mesaba for its actions.”

    If true, it sounds like Mesaba should have been fined more than Continental/ExpressJet.

    • humphrmi says:

      Continental and ExpressJet split a $100,000 fine (so, basically, $50,000 each) and Mesaba was fined $75,000, which is greater than $50,000.

      • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

        It still seems incongruous to fine the airlines $100k total when it sounds like they did everything they could to get the passengers off the plane, and the ground handler wouldn’t let them.

        • floraposte says:

          Mesaba pointed out that the captain and the dispatcher couldn’t really agree on what they wanted, so they were never clearly told what to do by ExpressJet.

          • aviationwiz says:

            Correct. ExpressJet dispatch wanted to send the flight ASAP in case weather cleared up in MSP and they were able to get in, and thus delayed giving Mesaba the clear go-ahead to deplane passengers. While the situation could and should have been handled better by all parties involved, I’d say the largest blame lies on ExpressJet dispatch. Once they gave Mesaba (who was solely functioning as a ground handler in this situation) the go-ahead to deplane, they did that.

  3. KCBassCadet says:

    Certainly those passengers are assembling a lawsuit? That’s just easy money.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      They’ll be getting some money from the airline as compensation, but I’m guessing they’d have to forgo lawsuits to get that. I’m not sure how much they’d get in a lawsuit. They were inconvenienced and put into an unpleasant situation, but they weren’t harmed.

  4. Segador says:

    That’s fine and all, (see what I did there?) but I want to know exactly what the “additional compensation” for the passenger’s 11 hours of ridiculous BS will be.

  5. props_nyc says:

    the comment on that news page is awesome:

    “This is an outrageous government intrustion into the rights and freedoms of corporations to conduct business the way they see fit. It may be “inconvenient” for stranded passengers to be stuck on a plane for a few hours, but since when is it the government’s job to interfere with the efficient operation of a business? This is just one more example of how knee-jerk liberalism run amok is wrecking free enterprise in this country.

    what a mo-mo. i can’t believe someone thinks 11 hours stuck on a plane is a sign of “efficient operation of a business”.

    • humphrmi says:

      Or, “a few hours”

    • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

      I like the way that guy thinks. Why should businesses be required to provide safe, comfortable environments for it’s customers? If a corporation wants to keep it’s clientele imprisoned without food or water for 11 hours, then people should vote with their wallets, right? Let the free market blow itself the hell up if people don’t like it! And while we’re at it, why don’t we just repeal all governmental regulations on business. Let’s do away with federal minimum wage, overtime, and OSHA, while we’re at it. After all, that cuts into the bottom line. Why not just reintroduce indentured servitude? It’s a modest proposal, I think.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      I’m not so sure. I take fundamental issue with government getting involved in business such as this, but at the same time I do see this as a potential imprisonment (i.e. the passengers were imprisoned on the airplane) scenario. That being said, they passengers did voluntarily board the aircraft, though they did not know they would be stuck for 11 hours. I’m just not convinced government involvement is the solution to such extremely rare situations. When you consider the thousands of flights everyday, and only a handful of such situations every year, I think the government’s time and effort can be better used elsewhere.

      Continental should certainly refund the fare, provide some additional cash (not money that can be redeemed only with Continental), and issue a formal apology. No need for the government to get involved.

      • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

        I see what you’re saying, but the government is already dug in pretty deep when it comes to the airline business since it requires a fair amount of regulation on various fronts. It’s not like they’re really overreaching. Protecting passengers from being stranded on a plane for 11 hours seems like a legitimate concern to me. Also consider, if any of those stranded passengers demanded to be let off the plane they could be detained by the government for causing a ruckus on a plane. I’d like to see this sort of thing prevented before some soccer mom get’s sent to gitmo for 3 years for speaking up.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        I don’t understand your logic. If you voluntarily walk into my house, that doesn’t give me the right to keep you against your will for 11 hours.

        This isn’t ‘potential imprisonment,’ but the real deal. You can’t tell me those people would have been any less safe in a closed airport where they could lie down, walk fully erect, and possibly find vending machines. It’s inexcusable treatment. Were airlines able to reach that conclusion on their own, government intervention would be a non-issue.

        • Gev says:

          Hell, I would rather lie down on the tarmac underneath the fuselage using my laptop bag as a pillow than have to sit in a ERJ (I’m assuming ERJ since it’s Continental Express) for 11 hours.

          Also, commenters on most news websites make Youtube commenters look like Rhodes Scholars.

        • fs2k2isfun says:

          You’re right. I’m not arguing they shouldn’t have been let of the airplane. I am arguing that our government has bigger things to deal with than 50 people stuck for 11 hours. I’d be interested in seeing the contract of carriage to see if it mentions delays such as this or the airlines requirements to get people off the plane.

          • thisistobehelpful says:

            Well that’s kind of what part of the FAA is for. Any and all things involving aviation, including passengers on commercial flights.

          • friday3 says:

            Actually, this is what the FAA is totally there for. The governments JOB is to protect people. By your logic, there were only 3000 people killed in the WTC, so the government should not go after the people who murdered them because after all there are 50 million without insurance, millions more unemployed. The purpose of this is for the government to stop airlines from committing abuses of the flying public. They were issued a license and agreed to the rules. If they can not live with those rules, they need to get out of the flying business.
            The total problem is the FAA’s mission is to regulate AND promote airline travel. This is asking them to do two things which might be at odds with each other.

      • magic8ball says:

        Yes, that’s what the airline should do. The question is, would the airline have done it without government intervention?

        • fs2k2isfun says:

          Perhaps. But think of this from a numbers point of view. There were about 50 passengers on the plane. Assuming such an incident happens 5 times a year, that’s 250 people inconvenienced. I can think of much greater injustices than 250 inconvenienced for 11 hours. 2750 man hours lost stuck on the aircraft. Even if the number is twice as many, I still think there are more important things for government to worry about.

          The bad publicity hurt Continental much more than the fine.

          • That's Consumer007 to you says:

            Don’t say it wasn’t bad and doesn’t matter unless YOU were on that plane and even then the rest on the plane would say you are wrong, because you are.

      • That's Consumer007 to you says:

        Government has to be involved and do something until the day we can arrest the CEO and charge him with criminal offenses with such incidents. Because you can’t put corporations in jail in their current form, and unfortunately nor can you put it’s principals in jail, there has to be SOME meaningful financial punishment and restriction on their power, or they would literally kill people for profit, just as health insurance companies do (through non coverage of stuff that should be covered.)

    • friday3 says:

      Yeah, and while they are at it, lets end this whole discrimination thing and let businesses only hire whites. Let’s not forget to end the whole seat belt in cars as well. Let those who want to pay more get them. We can also run our airline with no governmental interference and tell them when a plane goes down its fend for yourself. If the pilot wants to drink, that is between the pilot and his employer, the government shouldnt be in that business. Also, if we can have the cheaper pilot go for 20-30 straught hours while the expensive ones stay home lets do that too.

  6. Cant_stop_the_rock says:

    Meg, do you have a link to the actual DOT report? I can’t find it.

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I’m guessing the airlines will offset that $100,000 fine by offering fewer packets of peanuts to the next group of people who are unfortunate enough to get stranded on the tarmac.

  8. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Getting on a plane should be treated like any camping trip where you might be stranded for days – granola bars and trail mix are standard items in my carry-on bag.

  9. crichton007 says:

    Only $100,000 for 11 hours? The problem with these fines is that tey are so low as to be looked at as acceptable costs of doing business rather than a an actual punitive punishment. If these fines hurt then being fined would just be a cost of doing business but rather something to avoid.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      $100k + refunding tickets + compensating each passenger just made that flight very unprofitable for Continental and ExpressJet. It’s not as if there is an upside to leaving passengers on the tarmac for 11 hours that might offset the cost of the fine. A $100k fine is a disincentive. It may be a relatively small amount of money, but how many employees do you think would want to be responsible for costing their company $100k?

      Additionally, according to the article ExpressJet says their pilot made many attempts to get the passengers off the plane but was denied by the ground handlers. They say the DOT report acknowledges this, but I can’t find the DOT report.

      • Kuchen says:

        It’s hard to quantify it, but I’m sure the negative publicity is costing them a lot more than $100,000 in lost revenue.

      • petermv says:

        Of course the pilot could have just told the ground crew that he was opening the doors and letting them off and to deal with it. Seems to me they would then have dealt with it. What happens here is the same as every other time when they explain why they did something idiotic is because they were told to.

  10. thisistobehelpful says:

    Yay for precedent.

  11. savdavid says:

    That’s it? $100,000? Hell, that is the cost of lunch for the CEO for a week. They are probably laughing their ass off.

  12. Nogard13 says:

    The airline should’ve been fined $25,000 per passenger. I know that if I were caught in that situation I’d be supremely pissed! I was stuck on an airplane once for two hours and some of the people were already joking about opening the emergency exits.

  13. vladthepaler says:

    That $100,000 should be per passenger. 100k is nothing to a large corporation, far too low a number to be an effective deterrant. I hope the passengers are compensated substantially, or, as some have suggested, they should file a class action suit. (Yes, the lawyers will get rich, but what’s important, I think, is that the cost to the airlines of this behaviour be maximized.)

    • Wrathernaut says:

      With the profit margins on most flights, the $100k ensured that the flight was not profitable for anybody involved. Let capitalistic Darwinism sort out the carriers that continue this behavior.

      • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

        The $100k was in addition to refunding all of the tickets and compensating the passenger, so that was a very unprofitable flight.

      • segfault, registered cat offender says:

        Well, yeah, they lost money on that flight, and let the strongest airline (with the least fines) survive, etc., but the US has a history of bailing out failed airlines, so I don’t think they’re losing any sleep over $100k here and there.

  14. matt314159 says:

    I don’t want this to be construed as blaming the victims here but I’d have gone stir-crazy and popped the emergency doors long before the 11 hour mark. I go nuts on a 4 hour flight, let alone sitting on the tarmac for 11 hours. Permission or not, I think I’d be off that plane and walking in whatever direction I saw people and civilization.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      But the days or months spent in an a 8×10 cell would make the hours in the 1.5×3 seating space seem tame.

      • AlphaLackey says:

        Maybe it’s going to take someone willing to be that kind of martyr before people will wake up and realize what an egregious abuse this is. They can find a TSA guy to take me to jail but can’t find a TSA guy to let the single mom with two screaming infants find a little respite? I’d be the most sympathetic villain since Robin Hood or Zinedane Zidane.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          we’ll just see when/if it ever happens to me.
          when you see a news story about an unstable diabetic being trapped on an airplane after her supplies of food run out [medically i can’t eat fiber, so granola bars are out] and being deplane by emergency rescue crews and hospitalized…
          and yeah, i might mess myself up on purpose just to get the attention of the news and rescue crews to get everyone else off the plane.

  15. StanTheManDean says:

    Here’s hoping that LaHood gets totally pissed off while being stuck on a plane for 8-10 hours.

    Better yet, screw over his grand kids while papa has to waits.

    The next day there will be major FAA regulations implemented with 0 days of appeal process allowed.

  16. jaydez860 says:

    What the FAA needs to do is fine them $1,000 per passenger hour of which 50% would be distributed to the victims (they were held against their will, after all). That would work out to be be a fine of $517,000. This should be a non-negotiable fee, and it should be written into the airline bill of rights ASAP.

  17. AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

    Is there anyone “in the know” here who can explain why it’s not possible to get these people off the plane? I’m always so confused about this when these stories come out. After a few hours, when things are clearly going south, why are these airlines unable to take the passengers back to the terminal? Regulations? Poor decision on the airlines’ part? I don’t get it . . .

    • fantomesq says:

      The airplane was diverted into a closed airport. TSA had left. Delta/Continental didn’t have gates at this airport, so they had to rely on their partner airline – Masaba – who did. Masaba wouldn’t approve unloading passengers supposedly due to the TSA issue.

  18. Ceolwulf says:

    So no one tried to get off the plane? I’m not saying that what happened was right under any circumstance, but I would be the first one to cause a scene, get the hell off of the plane, and buy a Southwest ticket.

    IANAL but since the plane was on the ground, all they should be able to do is terminate my ticket if I decided I wanted off. They shouldn’t legally be allowed to hold you. Anyone know the specifics?

    • floraposte says:

      Even assuming that they didn’t get you busted for breaking out of a plane, which is frankly the likeliest option, it wouldn’t have gotten you anywhere in this case–the problem was that the airport was closed. No Southwest, no nothing.

    • fantomesq says:

      I don’t believe anyone actually exited the emergency doors although some threatened to. Despite the airport being closed, you would be arrested for unauthorized access to a secure area – the tarmac.

  19. d says:

    I don’t understand why they just didn’t get one of those portable stair trucks, pull up to the side, and let the passengers off, and let them walk to the terminal… Yeah, it’s not a “jetway”, but it gets you out of a tiny tin can jammed into a seat where you’re going to get an embolism from sitting in the same spot for 11 fucking hours…

    I’d SUE THEIR ASSES… And I agree, the $100K fine is way too low. It’s not even on the radar. $1million would be a better start with $100K paid to each passenger.

    I’m not kidding either – the sooner the airlines learn that there’s consequences to screwing over the passengers, the faster air travel will become more comfortable. Yeah, stuff happens in travel, but within 11 hours, someone, somewhere, somehow could have figured something out to get those people off the damn plane, and onto a bus or two and over to a hotel.

  20. Ein2015 says:

    Seems like there needed to be two things…

    1) A way for anybody to easily look up regulations for these sort of things.
    2) Training on when to call the hotlines for help.

    Apparently ExpressJet wanted to make the flight happen up until the crew would have worked past its limits. Obvious disregard for passenger comfort.

    Mesaba’s low-ranking peon didn’t know the regulations and he didn’t escalate the issue or find out more information from the various sources available.

    I feel that the fines are just. I didn’t read the breakdown on the ExpressJet/Continental fine, but the Mesaba fine is half a fine and half a “spend this much money on training” requirement. Hopefully this causes all parties involved to become more educated for the benefit of the passengers.

    The only thing that seems really odd to me is why Mesaba was acting as an airline carrier when it did nothing that requires a certificate of being an airline carrier. Mesaba even said that it was doing functions other companies that are NOT airline carriers do. Surely the DOT can find that Mesaba was in violation of some other provision?

    I hope the extra reimbursement for the passengers is good. :)

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      According to the DOT report there is no indication that ExpressJet wanted to keep the passengers on the plane until 4:45 a.m. The pilot attempted to get the passengers off the plane several times before that. At 4:45 it would have been prudent to try to get the flight off the ground so the passengers wouldn’t have to wait even longer for another crew to get to the airport.

  21. satanmat says:

    11 hours…. smeggin hell….

    I’m wondering a few things.

    1, what prevented the passengers from opening the door, and going down the emergency slide and walking into the airport?

    2, only 100k? that is just sad…. do the Passengers have the right to sue? ie does this settlement supersede their right to sue the airline?

    • fantomesq says:

      1) A federal arrest for trespassing in a secured area
      2) Yes, the passengers remain free to sue. The DOT fine has nothing to do with this.

  22. StarVapor says:

    t’s about time that an airline finally got nailed for the false imprisonment of passengers in a small, thin-skinned, aluminum tube for 11 hours without meeting their basic needs.
    However, that “Continental agreed to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT)’s consent order to avoid costly litigation.” only exposes the pathetic fact that they still don’t really give a crap about what happened to their passengers…they only care that it would cost them a bigger dime to take the case to court

  23. longcat says:

    Pretzel party! There was beer too, right? It couldn’t have been BYOB, since that would have added more luggage fees.

  24. glitterpig says:

    $100k? That’s like what they find in the chairs after a board meeting. That’s practically telling them, “here’s the ‘keep passengers imprisoned as long as you like’ fee; don’t worry too much about it.”

    Each airline is only paying about $100 per passenger per hour. A bargain!

  25. Urgleglurk says:

    I guess that’s what we get for letting the airlines cut labor and salaries to the bone. We get mindless McDrones that can’t make a decision (even an obvious one) to save their lives.
    As an experienced (and no longer in the airlines) airline supervisor and ground security coordinator designee, that problem had a 30-second solution.

    “Keep the doors to that part of the terminal locked and let the people off the GD airplane.” Duh.

    On top of it, if the flight crew had any b–ls, they could have invoked Part 91 of the Federal Code, which explicitly says that “The Pilot in Command is the final authority over the operation of the aircraft.” So, the Captain calls the agent over the company radio frequency and says, “Get these folks off my %*&%&*^ airplane, NOW! If you don’t, I’ll open the GD door myself and let them out on the ramp!”

    Again, end of problem.

    This is as much ExpressJet’s problem as it is Mesaba’s. They both deserve a good swift kick where it will do the most good. The agent at RSt had to have been talking to ExpressJet and Mesaba’s management and dispatchers, too. Why didn’t THEY step in and get those people off the plane? Those people also deserve a good kick.

    As time goes on, I’m becoming more and more ashamed of my former industry…

    • StarVapor says:

      The pilot may have control of the aircraft but it’s unfortunate that he can’t force someone to bring the stairs or Jetway to the plane to unload the passengers.

  26. hoi-polloi says:

    I wanted to comment on the safety issue of letting people into the terminal. A couple years ago, I was on the last plane to land at Fresno one night. I was traveling alone, and picking up a rental car from the airport the next morning. I went to baggage claim, which was right across from the rental desk. I grabbed my luggage and slept on a bench for a few hours until the rental agency opened.

    Three things bothered me that night. The first was the florescent lights. A bandana over my eyes solved that. The second was the riding floor polisher that one of the staff drove around for the first hour I tried to sleep. Once the other passengers cleared out of the airport, he was the only other person I saw all night. The last thing was the distance from my bench to the bathroom. Even though I was alone, the fear of Murphy’s law made me haul my suitcase with me each time I had to go. I certainly wasn’t in a position to cause real harm. Most parts of the terminal were locked down tight.

  27. longcat says:

    Seriously? Go the hell away, spammer.

  28. That's Consumer007 to you says:

    I just want to remind everyone that INContinental Airlines also previously decided instead of stopping locally when the problem (pooh geysers) sprung up in Ireland to then fly ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC with people subjected to hell.

    The pilot and people who made THAT decision should be in Jail. Period.

    That incident alone was enough to put them out of the airline business, but this one should have nailed it. Let’s put all the fine decision makers in pooh geysers for 11 hours with no escape then see how much the fine is.