Continental imprisons 50 passengers overnight in grounded plane with no food, overflowing toilets

Continental Airlines diverted a Twin-Cities-bound plane to Rochester due to a storm, and then locked the entire planeload of passengers in the plane overnight for nine hours. The TSA had gone home, so the passengers couldn't clear security if they got off and left the airport, and the ground crew wouldn't let them get off and stay in the airport. So 47 people -- including babies -- were locked into the plane with no food and overflowing toilets, held prisoner until the airline could get its act together. Jesus.
"It's not like you're on a [Boeing] 747 and you can walk around,'' said Christin, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law. "This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they've got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare...''

The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. The alternative of chartering a bus didn't work out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

What about just letting the passengers sleep in the airport terminal? "That was not provided as an option by ground services personnel at the airport,'' said Nicholas...

As light began to fill the cabin around 6 a.m., the plane doors opened and passengers were allowed into the airport terminal, Christin said. The airlines gave them one free beverage, he said. By about 9:30 a.m., the passengers were sent back on the same plane they had spent the night in -- which by this time had no functioning restroom. They landed in the Twin Cities about 11 a.m.

47 trapped on 'nightmare' flight to the Twin Cities (Thanks, Cliff!)


  1. I hope Minnesota recognizes a cause of action for civil false imprisonment. And that these people take advantage of it. What a nightmare scenario.

  2. At least on United Airlines Flight 93 the passengers had the guts to confront their kidnappers. Eight years worth of War on Terror have apparently reduced Americans to cattle.

  3. “What’s the problem here? Regulations clearly state…”

    Doesn’t everybody need regulating? Seriously, this sucks and I feel awful for those people. Personally, I would rather trust in good judgement and compassion than the bureaucratic nightmare we have now.

  4. I was so aggravated by this story that I read the word ‘functioning’ as ‘fucking’. As in “which by this time had no fucking restroom”. It’s a better fit don’t you think?

  5. I would have waited for the agent to fall asleep, opened the door and activated the emergency chute.

    And at the trial, I would have asked for a jury thus keeping the story inthe news for much longer than the airline company would have wanted.

    Although I wonder if this will be worth being put on the no-fly list.

  6. The worst part? It takes less than two hours to drive from Rochester, MN to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.

  7. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    – Benjamin Franklin

    Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where your civil liberties are compormised for totally insane levels of false security.

  8. Maybe its time to form an elite TSA task force who are on call at night to prevent these instances from happening. I do believe their dreams consist of similar scenarios anyway.

  9. This may just be internet tough-guy-ism, but what would honestly happen if someone opened the door and deployed the emergency ramp?

    I’d take my chances on the tarmac over spending the night on that plane.

  10. I think the title should be “ExpressJet imprisons 50 passengers overnight.” While the plane was indeed a Continental Express flight and the plane has Continental colors, it was not operated by Continental. ExpressJet is a wholly separate company. I agree the decision to keep passengers on board was horrid and I know that the mainline partner of any Express carrier is tangentially responsible for their operations…but having worked at both a regional and at a major airline, I can tell you it’s very likely that nobody at ExpressJet called Continental before making the decision to keep people on board the plane overnight. Just my two cents. I do feel very badly for the affected passengers, though.

  11. This is about money.

    When a flight gets cancelled, you, as a passenger, have a right to be re-imbursed.
    When a flight gets ‘delayed’, you have no right at all.

    This shit happens all the time.

    It’s also a good reason why they don’t allow passengers to take sharp objects on board.

  12. @daleyt

    I remember something very similar to this a few years ago. If I remember correctly, a whole airport was shut down during a snowstorm, including stranding a few planes somewhere between gate and runway. They kept the people in the plane for an absurdly long time (perhaps overnight?), and the flight crew threatened to have people arrested if they tried to make a break for it.

    I did some quick Googling, and although I found tons of other trapped-on-a-plane stories, I didn’t find the one I was looking for.

  13. You know those “Keep Calm And Carry On” parodies? Someone with graphics skills should make one with the TSA logo and “Sit Down And Shut Up”.

    Srsly, this is exactly the sort of thing that comes from the you-should-be-happy-we-let-you-travel-at-all mentality of DHS and their various fiefdoms. No one asks the cattle if they minded being stuck on a railroad spur in a switching yard overnight.

    On the other hand, Cash for Clunkers is looking better and better…

  14. Do you *really* think that if those 47 people didn’t feel they were under threat of Guantanamo Bay, they wouldn’t have broken out?

    Picture what would happen if a bus or train driver tried to implement this kidnapping.

    Or did they have an Air Marshall to defend the emergency exits with lethal force?

  15. I wonder how severe the consequences would have been if the flight crew had simply decided to continue on to the Twin Cities, rather than waiting for replacements?

    Sometimes it makes sense to bend the rules, including safety regulations.

  16. I didn’t realize this until I read this story and followed the links…i didn’t know this kind of thing happens all the time and they are trying to get congress to pass a flyer’s bill of rights…it’s so messed up that we even need something like this.

  17. The good point has been made that there ARE emergency exits on airplanes, and this might well have been the right time to use one.

    And I would have loved to see the airline fight out in court why they felt it was ok to hold X people in a parked plane, on the ground, and deny them exit from said. As has also been mentioned, the lack of ability to sleep in the terminal does not remove the ability to transport people to a hotel overnight.


    Until one of the fatigued pilots makes a mistake and the plane crashes.

    I’m a pilot. I know that literally flipping the wrong switch (or, more accurately, placing a switch in the wrong position) has in the past caused hundreds of people to die in fiery plane crashes.

    But I really hope that the people who were stranded on board sue the airline (Hey, I don’t work for Continental), the TSA, the DHS, the DOT, the airport and it’s controlling agency, etc.

  19. why do you have to clear security when you get off the plane? You’ve already cleared it on the way in, and on the way out, well you’re NOT ON A PLANE ANYMORE WHY DOES THE TSA CARE?

  20. I’d rather spend a night in jail than on a plane. I could at least lie down somewhere. Though there is still the risk of being disappeared to some terrorist holding cage, and then once again, not being able to lie down anymore.

  21. Note one point, it was an ExpressJet, which is the operator of the smaller regional Continental-branded jets.

  22. I would’ve mutinied and used my ‘exit row upgrade’ to toss open the door. Typically I would avoid any kind of “entitlement” outrage, but fuck everything in this kind of situation.

    After-incident compensation wouldn’t really satisfy how horrid this is either.

  23. As others have pointed out, the plane has emergency exits.

    I would take a few approaches:

    1. Call 911. That’s what they are there for. Ask to file kidnapping charges.

    2. Call an attorney (you do have one programmed in your phone, right?) and get an opinion that it is unlawful detention.

    3. After getting an opinion from an attorney, that would provide a great legal defense against any charges that would stem from using the emergency exit slides. “My attorney told me I was being unlawfully detained, so I took an obvious approach to escape from the unlawful detention.”

  24. #19 I mean… Continental is aware of their existence. As a regional operator, flying the Continental banner it’s just as much their fault.

    It’s like if I find a turd in a Big Mac. You wouldn’t say “Don’t blame McDonalds, it was just one of their contracted employees”.

    Long and the short of it: Continental lets them use the name, Continental makes money from them, Continental is implicated.

  25. I probably would have committed a crime about half way through – both for revenge and to be finally taken off the plane.

  26. I’m going to have to agree with the people who said “use the emergency exit.”

    What are they going to arrest you for? Not putting up with false imprisonment? I don’t think that’s a crime.

  27. I wanted to report a comment from the Star Tribune from someone who says they were a passenger on that flight:

    I was a passenger on flight 2816. I now know hell. Being stuck on that plane for 9.5 hours, 7 hours on the ground, was no picnic. The captain was not communicating with us at all, and what she did tell us seemed like stalling. A couple of things that have not made the stories that baffle me; 1. Another Northwest plane had also landed at Rochester just before us, they were allowed to exit their plane with there luggage and enter the airport at 3 AM!!! We sat till 6:30 AM being fed lines about the airport is not open and we cannot go in. 2. There was a bus waiting on the other side of the terminal from us at 5 AM. This was verified by Rochester tower employees (ATC). I asked the pilot if there was a bus and she picked up the intercom and announced to the plane “There is no bus”. 3. Once we were ALLOWED into the airport we were quarantined to one space at a gate and not allowed to move freely around the airport. I asked the security guard in charge of us why that was, we all were told to have our IDs and boarding passes with us and the airport was fully operational at this time. He told me he had no idea, it was what the flight crew had told him to do. Right before they went home because they had no flying hours left.

  28. I propose FAA rule #1,000,001: Passengers may not remain on a plane longer than 30 minutes without a flight crew on board.

  29. Everyone involved needs to be fired and the airline needs heavy fines leavied against it. How horrific. How could the people responsible not be disgusted by their own behavior. What a complete lack of thinking and humanity.

  30. @#8:”Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where your civil liberties are compromised for totally insane levels of security theatre.”

    There, fixed that for you, along with a typo :-)

  31. When I first read this story earlier this morning I was thinking of the Emergency Exit escape route also.

    This is absolutely insane. Since when do we lose our supposed rights once we enter an airport and an airplane and don’t get them back until after we leave the airplane and airport again.

    I’ll take the chance of being blown up in a damn airplane or crashed into some building – just like we all did prior to 9/11 – then deal with this absolute moronic behavior of TSA and TSA related bullshit. This illusion of security is all that it is, a fucking bullshit illusion. So instead we get this fucking nonsense.

    I apologize, but sometimes using foul language is the only appropriate language one can use considering the situation.

    Unfortunately we live in a country of unreasonable people who are in charge. In a reasonable country with reasonable people, all of this security first nonsense would have been overturned so we could get back to normal. For those who say 9/11 changed everything, no it didn’t. The world was the same before 9/11 as it was after 9/11. All 9/11 did was show people the reality under the illusion. Now we have dressed ourselves up under another illusion, the illusion of security. It needs to be torn away as well.

  32. Mark my words, when you wind up reading my name in some national newspaper, it will be because I was the one who threw open the Emergency Exit. No joke.

    This is why I rarely, rarely fly.

  33. @3 Good judgement? Isn’t that what got the passengers into this mess? No. They should have gotten out of the plane.

    ‘”Government” is just what we call it when we do it together.’

  34. I’m an RIT alumn, and I flew out of the Rochester airport on multiple occasions.

    One time I had an early morning flight, but my friend with a car was leaving town the night before. I figured it wouldn’t be so bad to go to the airport and sleep over. I found some couches near a TV, and slept there until morning. This was after 9/11. Nobody bothered me whatsoever.

  35. Silly people don’t call the police in this situation. They will just support the security paranoia that kept the poor passengers trapped on the plane.

    A better course of action would be to collude with your fellow passengers and start calling the news media. Make sure you frame it like it is hostage situation, and contact both local stations and some national cable stations.

  36. If they had blown the hatch, they probably would have all been stuck there forever dealing with an even more bureaucratic nightmare. Once the toilets stopped working I’d have started urinating by the pilot’s door.

  37. So, let’s visualize what would happen if I, as the angry passenger, attempted to open the emergency exit slide. I think I would try and call 911 first but what about after that route fails? Would the flight attendants try and detain me from opening the plane?

    Do pilots still carry handguns in the cockpit?

    Would force be used to keep me on the plane?

    What would you do when you get onto the tarmac?

  38. Shame on the passengers for not being good Americans and raising a ruckus. Course we’re talking about mid-westerners here..the same thing would NOT have happened on any East Coast flight.

  39. You know, a bunch of us have commented here about what we’d do about it if we were stuck on that plane. But nobody on that plane did any of these things. Why not? Once you’re actually in that situation, what is it like? What are the forces that are keeping you in your seat, thinking, “it should only be another hour, right?”. Because they are, apparently, very real.

  40. The real deal here is what’s going on under the false impression of security.

    This incident marks a classic example of how the Gov. is using fear to gain control over the people.

    We all can bitch and moan, but at some point we need to address the solution. Contact your Senator about TSA and let them know, if we don’t get a change, Them We’re going to Change Them!

  41. As far as I know, the main reason that this happens is that when the crew is in the plane and pushed back from the gate then they are getting paid, and when they are at the gate or out of the plane then they are not.

    I think what we’re not even mentioning yet is that when the plane is parked and waiting they often shut the plane’s engines off in order to keep from wasting fuel. With the engines off (just like when you have your car engine off) there is no A/C and since planes are sealed airtight the fresh air circulation system is not powered either.

    I once met an MD/MPH who was stuck on a plane for 8 hours. He noted that the temperature of the cabin reached over 100 degrees, and became very concerned about the health effects of the heat/dehydration on the babies (and adults for that matter) on board. The crew on that flight also refused to provide beverages to the passengers or to run the engines for A/C (or to open the doors to allow circulation–since I think that’s probably against some sort of regulation).

    I’m all for opening the emergency exit–it’s worth noting that if you open the emergency exit it costs the airline a great deal of time and money and you will not be able to fly on that particular plane that day. Once the exit has been opened the plane must go through pressurization testing in order for it to be allowed to fly again. FAA law.

  42. How about 47 lawsuits against Continental, and the airport, for imprisonment and endangerment?

    Regulation is needed that any time the passengers are cooped up in an airline cabin for more than, say, 90 minutes on the ground, that the option to leave the aircraft should be presented to them or the airline company and airport will risk fines and possibly criminal liability if anyone is injured as a result.

  43. Yep, all good suggestions. Get off the plane – call 911 – call the FBI – call Continental.

    Never, ever, ever put up with this kind of crap. If anything like this is done to you, sue the fuckers until they squeak.

    including babies! oh, ffs!

  44. You think you’re going to open the emergency exit and then what? Bang on the door to the terminal until someone lets you in? Scale the fence?

    You’d certainly end up in holding cell and would likely face a variety of federal felony charges. You would definitely not beat the rest of the passengers to your destination.

  45. Just flew on Continental. Awful. Their check in lines at LAX were outrageous. Several fights almost broke out between aggravated customers waiting 90 minutes in line and then missing their flight. This is an airline that truly needs a complete overhaul, it is a total mess. I will never fly with them again if I can. Get it together Continental.

  46. Not that I endorse casual lying, but if I was trapped on a plane for 5+ hours on the ground, I would tell the flight attendent that I thought I was having a heart attack.

    If she failed to get me off the plane, I would pop the emergency exit.

    Let a jury convict me, and cost the airline some big bucks, while they explain in court why it was appropriate to imprison these passengers. And while I testified that I was denied medical care, and in a panic, popped the exit.

    The bad publicity they receive will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. All because a passenger *thought* he was having a heart attack. Prove that I was lying, prosecutor.

    Are you listening, abusive airlines and airports which infict these policies on passengers?

  47. Absolutely pathetic, I’m still a big proponent of the train service…just make sure your (life) insurance is in order before you leave.

    Actually I can’t wait for vitalization then I could go to any city (virtualized) and skip this tragedy all together.

  48. They could have *driven* the plane, on the highways, to Rochester in less than 9 hours.

    Airports are good places to get in some practice for living in a police state.

  49. Continental can count their lucky stars that none of their passengers got Deep Vein Thrombosis during their unexpected imprisonment. They would have gotten the pants sued off of them if someone got hurt. That is unbelievable. The Airline industry really does need a reboot. The system is broken.

  50. in this situation, all it takes is one passenger to say he/she is having chest pains and they are either going to take that hero to the gate or open the doors for help to come, at which case i doubt if everyone started getting off they are all going to be arrested. most likely the plane is going to a gate. just because you recover from said chest pains as soon as you are off the plane does not mean that you did not in fact have them. and you will be a hero.

  51. Really? You’d open the emergency exit, deploy the slide and–assuming you haven’t been tackled by the crew–then what? Bang on the door of the terminal? Hop the fence to the parking lot?

    Sorry Internet tough guys, but if you used the emergency exit you would certainly be detained and arrested, and would likely face a variety of felony charges. You would be off the plane, but you’d be handcuffed to a desk. And there is more than a chance that you end up spending time in a federal prison.

    At the very least, you would certainly not beat your fellow passengers to the Twin Cities.

  52. Hate to go Godwin on this thread, but really, this illustrates how a few regulations and a whiff of authority can quickly turn people into unfeeling monsters.
    No, they didn’t shoot anybody, and they didn’t throw anybody in a gas chamber, but they did refuse to acknowledge the basic needs of 50 human beings for 9 hours.
    9 hours.

  53. This would be an excellent time to practice your skills at faking a heart attack. You can always blame it on heartburn at the hospital.

  54. I’m surprised that with 50 people present no one called 911 to report that the airline was endangering the babies on board.

  55. Eli: Time in federal prison? For what?! At best you’d be responsible to the airline for the cost of keeping the plane out of use while it is refitted–though if you’re being forcibly detained for many hours in the plane then I’d bet the airline would lose the battle for your money anyway.

    I’m still trying to understand how anyone could believe that there would be any cause whatsoever to arrest anyone for getting off the plane. What, precisely, would be the charge?

  56. I’m surprised that with 50 people present no one called 911 to report that the airline was endangering the babies on board.

  57. Ask loudly if any of the other passengers smell smoke. Use air quotes if necessary to get the point across….

  58. #48: There’s the whole problem with you being in a restricted area – random people are not supposed to be wandering around out on the runway. Running over someone with a jet would be bad, and of course you could be a terrorist ™ sticking limpet mines on airplanes or whatever.

  59. Haven’t we heard stories about people getting taken off of planes for little or no justification? I would be having a hard time not performing such actions / behaving in such a manner. The lack of compassion in support of bullshit rules and regulations here is astounding. This is what happens when common sense and critical thinking are bred out of a society.

  60. #44, Eli: You would not “win” yourself, at least not immediately. However, sometimes such self-sacrifice is needed to make this kind of behavior more expensive for its perpetrator. Also, with a good lawyer who can describe the airplane conditions in sufficiently colorful terms, and a jury trial, you have good chances you’ll get out free and perhaps even countersue the airline. You may also actually achieve some change in the regulations themselves, if you can play the publicity/media to your favor. Or at least, if nothing else, cause several million dollars worth of bad publicity to Continental. Which counts as a worthy revenge for this kind of treatment.

    Yes, it is a kind of a “suicide attack” in certain way. Certainly not free. But with the right timing, could be worth the cost.

    Faking health trouble is perhaps a yet-better option. I will have to remember this one.

    People who obey without even a token attempt to fight back – or at least to subvert the system – are the main factor that allows the systems to deteriorate to such state.

  61. Just for the record, this was not a Continental Airlines flight. The plane was operated by ExpressJet, an affiliate contractor that does business as Continental Express.

  62. The fact that they followed all of the other rules and protocol supposedly, and kept these people on the plane shows that following bureaucratic nonsense and the letter of the law if not the spirit, is more important than the well-being and comfort of these people. While I’d like to think that I would try to get off of the plane or raise some sort of complaint, attempting to leave – whether I did deploy the emergency exit or not, costing the airline hundreds of thousands of dollars, and breaking several laws that were put into place for specific situations, but not for this one – would put me in the hands of a set of equally uncaring security officials and lawyers, who would both sue me for everything that I had and win, and detain me for as long as they feel like, whether that night, or for the rest of my life.

    Maybe this much-needed recession really will help to make some changes to the air travel system, along with everything else that needs fixing. Unfortunately I don’t think that it will, and that these events and others of equal idiocy will continue to happen.

  63. “#24 posted by Xenu

    What are they going to arrest you for? Not putting up with false imprisonment? I don’t think that’s a crime.”

    “#53 posted by Shaddack
    People who obey without even a token attempt to fight back – or at least to subvert the system – are the main factor that allows the systems to deteriorate to such state.”

    sadly anything YOU do will be enough to get you on the no-fly list… that is what keeps people cowed… the thought of having to travel by road, rail or bus for the future…

  64. I’m no lawyer, but I’d be willing to bet that opening the emergency doors in any situation not described as an emergency by the TSA would result in a number of felony charges, at least several hours in a holding cell, and a one way ticket onto the no-fly list.

    And that the TSA can afford better lawyers than I can, so when I try to pull the “what jury would convict me” card, they pull the “terrorists are a very real problem” card.

  65. I agree with the person that says they saw another
    plane disembark.

    And why couldn’t they bus them to a hotel?


    Big Z

  66. Why would any self respecting person fly? The industry is famous for treating its customers like that.

  67. I think the best way to combat this is to use the airlines’ own ridiculousness against them:

    Simply bring a miniskirt with you. If the plane is detained somewhere on the runway and you’re not allowed to leave, simply slip the miniskirt on and then don’t put up a fight when they tell you that you look too slutty and you have to leave. Win!

    I recommend this for both men and women.

  68. For those claiming the emergency door option would be invalid, I’m willing to bet the court would buy “It was dangerously hot, there was no air circulation, and the oxygen masks refused to deploy” as a reasonable emergency. I could be wrong, but again, it’d be interesting to see Continental argue their case.

  69. Rangzen: Seriously? Because it’s illegal to use an airplane emergency exit unless directed to do so.

    In fact, here’s a story from this past March:

    A stir-crazy Scottish passenger trapped on a JFK Airport tarmac for 2-1/2 hours tried to make a break for it by yanking open the emergency exit door, prosecutors said.


    He was arrested by Port Authority police officers and was expected to be arraigned at Queens Criminal Court last night on charges of reckless endangerment and criminal tampering. He faces up to a year behind bars if convicted.

  70. #9 Maybe it’s time the sheep decided that TSA is a pointless sham, grow some balls, and take direct action. I like the idea of opening an emergency door and triggering the slide. Truly, these passengers were idiots and deserved what treatment they got. Why would they have to be screened getting off a plane? In as much as the cockpit doors have been made secure, is there any point to regulating anything a passenger takes on board? If someone wants to commit suicide and take a number of people with him, that’s more easily done on land with a car bomb or explosive vest, and I don’t see where that has happened in the last bunch of years.

  71. This story and the resulting discussion shows how completely you are boxed in. No you could not have used the emergency exit and achieved anything. Same for the other options. People seem to think that physically fighting back would have helped and cite the Benjamin Franklin quote and “sheeple” as examples of our passivity. I don’t think so and I have an answer as to why.

    The reason is that if you think the way you fight legal and governmental rules is by reacting physically in your personal space then you’ve already lost. You have to fight on the abstract legal level. Not on the personal level. At the very least these passengers should form a class action suit.

    The rest of us should act not as individuals, but as a group, a collective. In the US for starters people could try voting for a fucking change. Only half of you even bother to vote and that in national elections. Other times the figures are even worse, two thirds fail to vote.

    You could try writing your rep about issues that concern you. Letters matter to them, email less so. Phone calls also matter. In short there are many things that people could do if they wanted, but you won’t. These people will go back home and watch American idol and you will feel satisfied at having written an angry comment on a blog and nothing will change.

    Which I think is about right. If things really are not bad enough to get you to do something then they must not be that bad.

  72. @ Anonymous #81:

    Or perhaps the people on the plane thought that a violent insurrection and forced evacuation of the plane would have put them in an even worse situation than they were already in.

    It’s easy to call these people “sheep” when you weren’t there but I seriously doubt you would have behaved any differently.

  73. Eli: Yes, seriously. That particular case is not comparable to this story. 2.5 hour waits for weather are not uncommon, especially at JFK or Chicago. Also, he was not in a physically dangerous and preposterous situation wherein he was being told that the flight he was on was not going to depart and that he was not going to be allowed to disembark the plane for an unspecified unlimited period of time. Also, I feel certain that there is absolutely no way that guy will do a year for that. At best he’ll pay a fine for disorderly conduct and will see civil action from the airline for their re-certification costs (see my previous comment).

    I’m certain that in this particular case a very valid argument could be made that the health and safety of the passengers was being jeopardized by the unreasonable actions of the airline/crew.

  74. What is the possible consequences for getting off the aeroplane by behaving badly? Like starting to scream “get me out of here” or “I need to poo” constantly. Would that trigger less of a legal consequence then opening the emergency exit?

  75. Noen: I don’t think your animosity adds anything useful to the discussion, but your point is valid that people should contact their reps. The trouble is that there isn’t much the reps can/will do about it. They could pass legislation, but that’s doubtful given that the airlines would just complain about the extreme additional costs of handling those situations differently. Also, the FAA perceives it’s customers to be the airlines and not the flying public, so you’d have no luck there.

    And anyway, the rules are already in place for this sort of thing, they’re just not well known. If a delay is the fault of the airline (especially as was the case in this story) then the airline is required to compensate you in some way–usually with vouchers or something of the sort. They are not responsible to compensate you if the delay is weather related, which is often why you are told delays are weather related when they are clearly outside working on the plane.

  76. Noen: Glad to see you back on your game!

    Sorry to say that most folks here who bother to write are probably not the ones who are not voting / not contacting their congress critters. For every literate, computer savvy, politically engaged person in this country there are probably 200 backwoods fucks. The corporations have us outflanked because they know exactly how to manipulate these folks, which is why gay marriage is still an issue and not a given.

    I agree that you have the right tack on affecting this issue as a group and through legal action. Organizing a boycott of Continental would not have any effect unless it can gain publicity despite the corporate controlled media. The bulk of flyers, though, do not use an airline out of preference, which is why they have us by the short ones.

    The ultimate solution would seem to be to stop treating corporations with the rights of individuals. How do we wake everyone up to this eventual necessity for the survival of the human race? We can’t even seem to stem the evil tide of Wal-Mart…

  77. In this situation, I wonder if a cell phone would be a useful tool. In addition to 911 and your attroney, here are a few places you could call:

    Call a friend or family member. They can agitate from the outside and (if your phone doesn’t have internet access) can gather other helpful phone numbers.

    Call newspapers, TV stations and news sites. Most news outlets (at least most of the news outlets I check each morning) thought this story was interesting enough to post on the front page of their website. I’m sure there are few who would jump on the chance to cover a “47 people trapped on a plane” story as it happens (especially local TV stations, they may even send a van). It may also lend veracity to your story if you encourage other passengers to call the news outlets too.

    If you are in discomfort, call the local hospital, describe your symptoms and ask if the situation is putting your health in danger.

    If people are getting demonstrably angry or aggressive, call the police. Describe the situation and tell them you think things may get out of control soon. In this case, I think I’d call a station directly rather than use 911. If the police are willing to send patrol cars to over-loud parties, they’ll probably respond in person to your call too. If they do, call the local news stations again and let them know the police have responded.

    Call the airlines. You could start with the small carrier, or go straight to the biggest name on your ticket. Give them the gory details. Let them know that people are feeling sick, the police have responded, and the press has been notified. Ask for names, write them down and, if you have the technology, record the conversations. These details make for great human-interest and consumer-protection stories in the nightly news.

    All of these calls would take time, but if you’re stuck on an airplane you already have lots of time. But (and here’s where I reveal myself as a petty, vindictive weasel) it’s time spent spreading the discomfort. And it might get get you out of the air-tight metal tube a little sooner.

  78. The executives at these airlines see the writing on the wall: they’re in a dying industry, given peak oil issues and econopocalypse. So they’re just stringing the airlines along at minimal cost until bankruptcy, while stuffing their pockets full before they have to leave the buffet table.

  79. What I would have done:

    911: *ring ring* “What is your emergency?”
    Me: “I am at (airport) on (plane). Some people have taken over the plane and they won’t let us leave. They are wearing uniforms but they are acting like terrorists, I don’t think they actually work for the airline. Everyone is terrified, come quickly! OMG they’re coming!” (hang up).

  80. Where was this plane parked all night? I’d like to think it wasn’t sitting somewhere where another aircraft could come into contact with it; you know, I’d really sleep easy in a metal tube with a tank full of highly-flammable liquid all night. Was there any air circulating? Supposing someone on the flight had H1N1?

    I’d be with Team Emergency Exit. I’ve always wanted a go down that inflatable shute (in non-disaster conditions, obviously…)

  81. After speaking with someone in the know, I have been informed that Congress is supposed to be in the process of passing a law that limits the amount of time people can be forced to wait on a parked plane to a maximum of 3 hours.

  82. So, at what point would you go for the emergency door? After they clearly announce, “We will be sitting for the next 9 hours until the morning and you are all hostages?” I promise there was never such an announcement. I’m sure it was lots of vagueness, like, “I’m sorry about the delay. Thunderstorms in the area. Once the cover lifts, we’ll be ready to go. Probably about an hour.” And then, “We’re just waiting for clearance from ground control. We’ll be getting underway in 45 minutes.” Followed two hours later by, “Unfortunately, due to federal regulations, the flight crew has to be refreshed. We’re waiting on a new departure time. I do regret the inconvenience, but we should be underway just as soon as they arrive.” And, “I really do apologize. We’re going to have to move onto a charter bus. We’re working right now to get that arranged, and you’ll be on your way in just a short time now.” Everyone gets testy and pissed off, but the best option at all times appears to be: wait for the weather/ground control/flight crew/bus.

  83. Why cause a TSA worthy ruckus?

    Light a cigarette, then they have to throw you off the plane and you will gain a planefull of grateful friends.

  84. #89 RANGZEN

    Noen: I don’t think your animosity adds anything useful to the discussion, but your point is valid that people should contact their reps. The trouble is that there isn’t much the reps can/will do about it.

    It wasn’t intended to be but I am frustrated that people complain but do nothing. I will be going door to door for a local election soon. It isn’t much, but it’s something. Others, (not me) are working to unseat Michelle Bachmann and get her out of congress and into that radio talk show she so desperately deserves.

    I have been informed that Congress is supposed to be in the process of passing a law that limits the amount of time people can be forced to wait on a parked plane to a maximum of 3 hours.

    Yes, in direct contrast to your previous comment the government can do things. That is the other thing you see here, despair and cynicism. They aren’t very productive responses.

    But the main thing I wanted to convey was the idea that there are different levels and it’s best to respond on the appropriate level. Soooo if crime is a problem responding on the personal level, tough mandatory sentencing, is ineffective. If airlines mistreat their passengers, acting out physically is also not going to really solve the problem. The correct response in both is to change the legal or regulatory environment that gave rise to the problem in the first place.

    But as single individuals we can’t do that. We’ve been conditioned to think we are alone and that all we can do is kick back at authority once in a while. That conditioning is like a dream state, it needs to be broken. Collectively we have a lot of power.

    Suppose that Continental Airlines had gone bankrupt over night? What would have happened to those people? Suppose that no pilots and no staff showed up. The TSA would NOT have allowed them out. What then? As individuals you are weak and vulnerable. The rich want to keep you that way. In a way, we are all already in a plane sitting on the tarmak.

  85. At what point do we declare that Al Queda has won? They’ve gotten us to give up all the freedoms that made this country great. They repeatedly use our own airplanes as weapons against us.

  86. Oh my lord, I can’t even imagine… Especially if you had little ones on the flight. Emergency door exit would definitely be at the bottom of the list. My thought would be:

    1. Call the airline itself and try to get it escalated
    2. Call CNN/local news
    3. Call 911
    4. Emergency door

  87. Noen: The fact that Congress is passing a law is less about voter complaints and more the result of a similar situation to the one discussed in this article, in which a mother with a sick infant had packed the baby’s medication in her checked luggage. The plane was delayed on the tarmac for 9 hours (longer than in this case) and she was not allowed access to the child’s medication when it was needed (after several hours). The addition of the heat and lack of water caused a serious health risk to the baby–as well as others on the plane no doubt. Thus, Congress reacted to the outrage of a dangerous health matter.

    The point of my earlier statement was not to counter yours. If you re-read what I wrote you’ll note that I agreed that people should contact their reps. I wasn’t arguing that the passengers should act out in a form of civil disobedience, as some others in these comments may have been. Rather, my point was about reacting to the danger of the situation, which is an immediate concern and not one which can wait to be settled by months/years of lobbying Congresspeople/voters.

    I still believe in the importance of acting out when the situation becomes a health risk to the passengers on board. To wit, if I were traveling with a pregnant woman or small child, I would not hesitate for a moment to attempt to exit the aircraft if I had a reasonable belief that she/the child was in danger from continued exposure. Not only that, but I’d bet a considerable sum that no judge/jury in the land would do anything more than fine me for such action.

  88. This is a very simple situation to resolve to the satisfaction of all the passengers. Simply become aware of the acute and disturbing smell of smoke in the plane. Activate your cell phone and call 911. Tell the operator that you are pretty sure that you ‘think’ you smell smoke in the plane and want to evacuate.

    The fire department will arrive, open the plane and remove all occupants as quickly as possible. There is no law you have broken since thinking you smell smoke is a perfectly justifiable reason for dialing 911.

    All passengers should be prepared to do this when they ‘think they smell smoke.’

  89. All you need on the plane is one asthmatic, and it really IS an emergency. After nine hours on a plane with overflowing toilets and no fresh air, I WOULD be having an asthma attack, or on the edge of doing so. I often find my breathing tight after three hours on a flight, as it is, because the oxygen levels are kept too low, and I usually get sick from breathing so many other people’s germs with my system stressed. As a result, I don’t fly to any location under 6 hours away by train. If things got this bad, I would not hesitate to invoke to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Heck, or a diabetic without enough food, same story. Both conditions are common enough that no one has to fake anything.

  90. it’s stories like this that leave me astounded people still fly in the states. especially for relatively short trips.

    i mean, you can either plan for a longer trip, by bus/car. or you can book a flight, give up your civil liberties for the duration of time spent in airports/on planes, and risk a disgusting scene like this.

    if we boycott the airlines, they’ll be forced to shape up.

    /two cents

  91. In addition to “smelling smoke”, “medical emergency”, and “News station film at 11”, I would also be using my cell phone to take pictures out the window of any activity at the airport/jet (or lack thereof) that might be preventing us from getting under way. Useful to contradict the airline policy of “No compensation for weather problems.”

  92. themadlibrarian, good point. Photos are a good idea. Document the entire episode and put it online. But people, as soon as they board a plane, turn into sheep. I was with my young daughter on a flight out of LAX a few years ago. My seat was totally broken – tilting back at an angle. The plane was totally full. I complained just before take-off to the flight attendant.

    She said, ‘Sir, if you complain about this now we have to hold the plane on the ground until a mechanic can come fix this seat. Are you sure you want to complain?’

    I said, ‘Listen, I paid several hundred dollars for this seat. It’s broken. I’m complaining because I can’t sit straight.’

    She said, ‘Well, we have to hold every passenger on this flight until the mechanic comes.’

    ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘You do.’

    The mechanic came, fixed my seat in about 30-minutes and we took off. My daughter asked me why I had made all the other passengers on the plane so angry. I told her that those passengers do not behave that way when they find themselves with rotten meat from the grocery store. They take it back for a refund. I told her that’s exactly how you should be on a plane. No difference.

    People turn into sheep as soon as they even see an airplane. It’s a modern disease.

    If two hundred people can’t get out of a plane, they’re imbeciles.

  93. Ultimately, one person is responsible for
    the well being of the 47 people aboard this craft. The captain. Placing the blame on
    others (FAA, Airport personal) does not absolve
    him of this responsibility. It was him and him
    alone who made the decision to abandon his vessel with his charges on board. In other time, he
    would face court martial. I’d personally like to see him and him alone marched along
    the tarmac in front of an audience of his peers,
    and, ceremonially, have his stripes ripped from his shoulders and forbidden ever again to command
    a craft in the US. “Captains” on US airlines do
    not deserve the title…they should simply be
    called pilots or drivers.

  94. Why is the airline industry still tolerating the TSA? The TSA doesn’t keep anyone safe–it doesn’t take more MacGiver than even I’ve got to figure out ways around their restrictions. (And lest we forget, it was the TSA who waved the 9-11 terrorists onto the planes.)

    All it does is offer massive and highly visible inconvenience to the public, so the government and airlines can point to them and say “Just look at all the effort we’ve gone to!” But it’s high on the list of things that are killing the airlines.

    Air travel used to be kind of pleasant. Now it’s some asshole pawing through your underwear while taking umbrage that you don’t share her view that she’s doing you a colossal favor by stealing your contact lens solution. Or–as in this case–promulgating rules that imprisoned 50 paying passengers for 9 hours in circumstances that you literally wouldn’t tolerate for a dog.

    I’m disinclined to believe that Continental’s going to survive this.

  95. Wow..USA service levels dip to another new low. This country is really aiming for ‘developing’ status. I would not get this lack of common sense in China or India. I guess it was “the systems’ fault…duh

  96. 9 hours is one thing. I’m guessing it was a mild night. Any amount of time in 110 degrees fahrenheit and no circulation is another. In that case if I had a kid I would pull the emergency door and let the consequences play out. I’d already have my opening defense ready for the judge. “Your honor, if I imprisoned my child under these conditions, I would wind up before you on charges of child endangerment. In this case it was the airline that was endangering my child, and I took appropriate action to force the removal of my child from danger. I plea not guilty, but state for the record that I deem the maximum sentence for these charges worth the price of my child’s safety.”

    See the fuckers pursue the case then. I look forward to this being moot when the county finally rebuilds the train network.

  97. Ah! The golden age of flight!

    (emphasis on the word ‘golden’ after 9 hours or so)

    #112: Our current society must first collapse so that a new society can arise and eventually develop and distribute lemon-scented paper napkins.

  98. Nobody had Twitter?

    “Please RT #Flight ***. Been trapped on tarmac in Rochester MN 9 hours; babies here too. Not a rickroll. Send help.”

    Done, and with 42 characters to spare. You don’t have to lie, or threaten, or go nuts to see results in situations like this. You don’t have to risk the no-fly list. All you have to do is tell someone.

  99. The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air

    I’m not entirely clear how this might have affected the overall situation, but — what? They couldn’t have figured out beforehand that the aircrew was going to run out of time?

    (I understand that airlines, especially regional ones, push flight crews to the limit, but this seems to be going beyond the limit.)

  100. Just as a followup, the response from the airport manager was included in a followup article at

    Airport manager Steven Leqve refutes the claim, noting that a Delta flight was also redirected to Rochester because of weather, but it deplaned passengers at 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

    While screeners had gone home for the night, passengers could have come into a secure area of the building, Leqve said.

    “If it were my decision, I would have deplaned the passengers and let them mill about the building,” he said.

    But decisions about what to do with passengers ultimately lie with the airline, he said.

    After the plane landed, a station manager in Rochester made contact with a Continental dispatcher at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport about how to handle the delay. Continental decided to keep the plane on the Rochester runway in hopes the weather would clear up. A brief window opened up about 2 a.m., but conditions quickly deteriorated.

    Leqve said he wasn’t notified by the airline that there was a problem, and that he found out about it when a passenger on the plane called him about 4 a.m.

    In another point of contention, Leqve said airport screeners start work at 4:30 a.m., but passengers weren’t allowed off the plane until 6 a.m. Leqve said he doesn’t know why they weren’t allowed off earlier.

    However, a Delta Airlines Airbus had landed in Rochester just minutes before the ExpressJet flight and also waited for the weather to clear, Leqve said. When that didn’t happen, the Airbus taxied to the gate at 3:30 a.m. and about 50 passengers disembarked. They were bused to the Twin Cities, arriving about 6 a.m. The decision was made on a corporate level, Leqve said.

  101. bookguy @ 15:

    It happened at DTW (Detroit – Wayne Co. airport). Northwest was the responsible airline. The passengers were imprisoned for 9.5 hours on the runway. I believe the date was Dec. 31, 1998. The situation resulted in a class action suit against Northwest that probably settled out of court (we never really heard) and Northwest Corporate bringing in snow removal experts from Minneapolis to teach the Detroit airport people how to plow snow off the tarmac in a time-effective manner.

    It hasn’t happened here since then. Our local Faux affiliate would have been all over it like flies on poop.

  102. Good day! Blogger Bob here from the TSA Blog. Many feel this incident occurred due to TSA regulations, and I’m just popping into forums around the web and blogosphere to clear things up a bit. I posted the following yesterday on the TSA Blog:

    Due to thunderstorms, a flight bound for Minneapolis on Friday, August 7, was diverted to Rochester, Minnesota. Passengers were stuck inside the plane for several hours after ExpressJet made the decision not to deplane.

    Earlier today, there were media reports that led some to believe TSA regulations prevented the passengers from deplaning.

    TSA does not make decisions on whether or not passengers can deplane. We do however have the ability to recall our officers and open a checkpoint at the request of an airline or airport. No requests were made by ExpressJet on Friday or Saturday. The checkpoint resumed normal operations at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday.

    Also, passengers did not need to be screened or rescreened to deplane and re-board as long as they didn’t exit past the checkpoint and leave the non-screened sterile area of the airport.

    Please note the airline has since publically apologized to the passengers.


    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team

  103. Oh, well that makes it all better then, doesn’t it?

    Hey Blogger Bob (if that IS your real name), do they actually pay your salary as an official apologist or do you just get the first pick of electronics lifted from people’s luggage?

  104. “Blogger Bob”,

    In this situation, there are plenty of those involved that want to say, “Hey, it wasn’t us! You should be mad at ________”, including ExpressJet, Continental, and now, apparently, the TSA. It would be more helpful if, instead of saying “not it!”, you (and the rest of TSA) could get to work on some pro-active policy change to ensure stuff like this stops happening ALL THE TIME.

    After all, it is because of the TSA fear-mongering to begin with that no-one on this flight really rose up and did anything about it. Nobody opened the emergency door, even though it was clearly an emergency, because they were scared of being arrested and put on the no-fly list. And I’m sure, fear of retribution from the TSA was a factor in the crew deciding that they couldn’t let anyone off the plane. Your regulations are completely unregulated to the point where if anyone even has a funny look on their face, massive criminal charges, fines, and jail time.

    So yes, in a way, it is totally your fault.

  105. It’s a tough situation for the people on the plane. They understand the repercussions of standing up, and know the easiest path is doing nothing and suffering for the 9 hours. The harder choice, however, is taking a stand. While it might lead to heavy fines and even jail time, it’s worth it, as it would stir the national debate in a manner that a class action suit has less of a chance of doing. Unfortunately, that’s a lot to ask from a person, and few people are willing to make correcting the TSA’s farce their cause. Standing up is what was needed in this situation, and hopefully they do a good job of making a huge deal out of it in court. Crap like this has to end.

  106. This was absolutely, positively 100% the fault of government. No? Who was stopping those people from leaving the airplane?

    If you grabbed the door handle and started to give it a swing, what would stop you from opening it and jumping to the tarmac? An airline employee? He’d be guilty of assault?

    What kept all of that obedient cattle in that airplane was threat of imprisonment. That’s a threat that a private entity can’t make.

    !!Rock the Vote, Dude!!

  107. Happy Camper,
    If we read about something like this happening in a third world country, we would be all over it with all kinds of inhumane accusations, well Continental, should be ashamed, they should fire the pilot, since the pilot is responsible for the welfare of the passengers and did not fulfill their duty.
    I realize I merely one person but I know one airline that I will never fly on again.

  108. TSA Response on ExpressJet Incident

    Myth Busters

    TSA officers have to be present at an airport and performing screening operations in order to allow passengers on diverted flights to deplane.

    Airlines, not TSA, make the decision on whether or not to deplane passengers if there is a delay or diversion. TSA does not prohibit airlines deplaning passengers and re-boarding without screening as long as they don’t exit past the checkpoint and leave the secure area, regardless of whether or not TSA officers are conducting screening operations.

    In addition, TSA has the ability to recall security officers and resume screening passengers after hours at the request of an airline or airport.

  109. And this is why I’d rather drive to a destination 1000+ miles away than fly. It’s also why I stopped taking vacations overseas, requiring a flight.

    I’d love to know what they’d do if there was a medical problem on board? Keep the ambulance waiting outside until morning when they have permission to unlock the plane’s door?

    As much as I hate lawsuits, I really hope someone gets sued or fired over this.

  110. I wonder if a person could have made a citizens arrest against the flight crew?

    A quick call to 911 telling them that you had arrested the crew for unlawful detention and kidnapping. Surely some LEO types would have arrived shortly to take stock of the situation.

    When asked explain that the crew took the aircraft to a location that was different than that which it was suppose to go and was holding captive all passengers.

  111. Much of the discussion centers on TSA, but I don’t believe the airline’s claims about security. The New York Times has reported that the airport has said they would have accommodated the passengers if the airline had only asked. Airlines have become infamous not only for imprisoning passengers, but also for lying to them. Don’t believe their feeble explanation.

    Can someone explain why the airlines do this? What do they gain by holding passengers hostage? Are they afraid that by being allowed in the terminal they will find a seat on another airline?

  112. Follow the money. The airliner/airport was unwilling to extend themselves in a monetary fashion in order to properly monitor these kind of situations. Cheaper & more convenient to let them sit w/ no service.

    If you open the door, you’ll be charged for the parachute & fined by the government.

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