47 Passengers Get Screwed Again

The Department of Transportation seems to have taken some action over the incident in August when 47 passengers were stranded on a tarmac in Rochester, Minn. after their aircraft diverted there due to thunderstorms.

The Associated Press is reporting:

Federal officials are fining three airlines a total of $175,000 for their role in the stranding of passengers overnight on an airport tarmac in Rochester, Minn., this summer. The Department of Transportation says it fined Houston-based Continental Airlines and its regional airline partner ExpressJet a combined $100,000 for their part in the stranding of Continental Express Flight 2816 on Aug. 8. DOT also said in a statement that it has fined Mesaba Airlines, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines. Flight 2816 was en route from Houston to Minneapolis carrying 47 passengers when thunderstorms forced it to divert to Rochester. The airport closed and a Mesaba employee refused to open the terminal for the stranded passengers.

That's all fine and good. In my humble opinion, those airlines should be fined... especially Mesaba, who were the ones that prohibited the passengers from entering the terminal and forced them to sit in the smelly airplane.

But here's the problem: It's not like the DoT is going to divvy up that $175K among the passengers on the plane. Basically, they fined the airlines to punish them (and presumably, to send the message that this was unacceptable and cannot happen again). Meanwhile the passengers get diddly squat. Sure... Their tickets were refunded and they got some vouchers. But if the airlines are paying a fine, why should the money go to the government?


kd5mdk November 25, 2009 at 09:30 am

Should the millions that WN was fined last year be split among its passengers?

I think this does help the passengers though, in that the DoT has already shown that the delay was unreasonable. Therefore, if they sue they'll have a powerful piece of evidence that they were mistreated, without relying on common sense.

Josh November 25, 2009 at 11:51 am

@kd5mdk - Yes. I think that if an airline is fined for a specific incident, then the funds should go to the passengers impacted by that incident.

Why should the government reap the punitive damages and not the passengers?

kd5mdk November 27, 2009 at 11:01 am

In this specific case, it could make sense. But in my WN example, nobody was specifically more impacted than another, because none of their planes fell out of the sky. So when you divide the fine among passengers, do you give everyone who flew WN in the affected months and equal share? Prorate it per segment you flew? Per trip? Per travel day? Per mile?

I just don't think it's practical as an overall policy.