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U.S. Investigating Overnight Tarmac Delay

People have been beating up on ExpressJet after Friday’s impromptu night on the tarmac soiree in Rochester, Minnesota. Heck, even Continental, under whose name ExpressJet was carrying passengers from Houston to Minneapolis, piled on. All that criticism is bad enough, but now the Department of Transportation (DOT) is investigating the incident to determine if ExpressJet actually broke the law by keeping passengers confined to its aircraft overnight.

In a statement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “While we don’t yet have all the facts, this incident as reported is very troubling,” and that he wanted to know if either Continental or ExpressJet had violated any laws. “We are investigating the incident,” he said, “and will do whatever we can to make sure passengers are not subjected to such situations in the future.”

While it’s not immediately clear what laws ExpressJet may have violated, the AP reports that the DOT has submitted a letter to both carriers asking which was responsible for the well-being of the passengers and why the flight remained on the ground as long as it did. The DOT also wants to know what procedures each carrier has in place for deplaning passengers in situations like this.

As expected, the incident has also rekindled talk of a possible Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which has been discussed in Congress often since JetBlue’s service meltdown—which included several long tarmac delays—in early 2007. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who sponsored a Bill of Rights in the Senate, sent a letter to their colleagues in Congress, saying, “Despite repeated assurances by the airlines that federal legislation is unnecessary to protect passengers from lengthy tarmac delays, these incidents continue to remind us that voluntary standards agreed to by the airlines are inadequate and often unacknowledged. The time is now for Congress to act.” The current FAA Reauthorization Act, which is working its way through Congress, includes a provision requiring carriers to deplane passengers after three hours on the tarmac.

The AP notes that then-Senator Obama was among 12 co-sponsors of the Boxer/Snowe bill, which did not pass.

If you haven’t already done so, weigh in with your thoughts about the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights in our latest poll. Thanks!

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