UPDATED: DOT clears Continental Express crew in tarmac stranding

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood just announced that the Continental Express crew has been cleared of blame in the Aug. 8 stranding of 47 passengers on one of its planes at the Rochester, Minn., airport. DOT investigated what happened after members of Congress, and lots of others, asked why these things continue to happen. The passengers were trapped on the 50-seat regional jet from just after midnight until 6 a.m, creating the usual scene of an overloaded toilet, crying babies and only pretzels to eat. 

LaHood said in a statement that the local representative of another regional carrier, Mesaba Airlines, a Northwest Airlines, now Delta Air Lines, subsidiary, "improperly refused the requests of the captain to let her passengers off the plane." LaHood said Mesaba was the only airline with personnel at the airport able to assist Continental at the airport,. A DOT spokesman added that why Mesaba had that role at the airport is part of the investigation.  

The Continental crew was told by Mesaba that the airport was closed to passengers, apparently there was no one from the Transportation Security Administration available to screen passengers. In fact, the passengers were not going to need to be rescreened by TSA personnel. DOT did fault senior Continental and Express Jet officials for not getting more involved in resolving the situation.

"There was a complete lack of common sense here," LaHood said. "No wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated."

Once again, we're left to wonder why the entire airline industry, not just some carriers, can't seem to respond better to these situations by kicking responsibility up the corporate ladder until they can be resolved. The Express Jet unit that flew the plane received most of the criticism in this case, and it now looks like others -- both in and out of Continental -- deserve some as well.

UPDATE: This should  have been included in the original posting: The CEOs of both Continental and Mesaba parent Delta issued statements saying they were investigating what happened. Delta CEO Richard Anderson said he had reached out to Larry Kellner at Continental and promised cooperatiion in probing the incident.

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