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DOT Acquits ExpressJet, Blames Mesaba?

Seems we owe everyone at ExpressJet something of an apology. While it initially seemed like the regional carrier was at fault for keeping passengers aboard Continental Flight 2816 overnight in Rochester, Minnesota, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has acquitted the airline and placed blame elsewhere. Meaning it must be the airport’s fault, right? Or perhaps the responsibility lies with Continental, for whom ExpressJet was operating the seemingly cursed Houston-Minneapolis flight?

Nope. It was Mesaba Airlines.

I know, I know. Mesaba who? But it’s true: The DOT’s investigation of the incident has followed the bread crumb trail of blame back to Mesaba, a regional carrier that operates out of Rochester. In his blog, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood writes, “The local representative of Mesaba Airlines—the only carrier in a position to help the stranded plane—improperly refused the requests of the ExpressJet captain to let her passengers off the plane, telling the captain that the airport was closed to passengers for security reasons.

“The Mesaba rep said this apparently because there was no one from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) available to screen passengers. But, in fact, TSA procedures allow passengers to get off the plane, enter the terminal and re-board without being screened again as long as they remain in a secure area.”

This last statement echoes exactly what the airport manager in Rochester claimed, while the entire text backs up the statements from ExpressJet following the incident: That it had tried to deplane its passengers but was told it could not because security personnel had gone home.

And as if the blame wasn’t bad enough, Mesaba suddenly has an angry Transportation Secretary on its hands. “You know,” LaHood writes, “learning more about the facts of this incident hasn’t done a whole lot to temper my anger at the way those passengers were treated. I mean, there was really a complete lack of common sense here. It’s no wonder the flying public is so frustrated.” He also said the Aviation Enforcement Office “is considering appropriate action to take against Mesaba.”

This is not to say Continental and ExpressJet are completely off the hook: “While the crew of the Continental Express flight did what they could to assist passengers, more senior personnel within Continental or ExpressJet should have become involved in an effort to obtain permission to take the passengers off the plane.”

But for now, the folks at ExpressJet (and Continental) must be feeling pretty good. As for Mesaba? Well, let’s just say a lot of folks are eager to hear what it has to say.

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