Passengers stuck on plane for 6 hours

August 10, 2009 3:26:04 PM PDT
It was an air traveler's nightmare, complete with crying babies, a stinky bathroom, hours and hours of waiting, and no way out. We're hearing for the first time from a passenger who spent nearly six hours on a tarmac, waiting for his plane to take off. He was among dozens of other travelers who had no choice but to stay on board while their patience wore thin.

Passengers on board Continental Flight 2816 were left powerless, frustrated-and stranded. Crammed on a commuter jet, they were faced with the threat of being arrested if they tried to get off.

What was supposed to be a three hour flight from Houston to Minneapolis turned into a nightmare for the 47 people on board Flight 2816. Passengers say the airline trapped them overnight for almost six hours with no food or water, after the commuter plane, operated by Express Jet Airlines, was diverted to Rochester, Minnesota, due to bad weather.

"You're almost numb because you're so exhausted, so you kind of doze off but you can't really sleep because babies are crying and the smells are getting worse," said passenger Link Christin.

Express Jet says in addition to airline regulations that prevented passengers from disembarking the plane, the crew was unable to fly because they reached their maximum work hours. Attempts to bus the passengers to Minneapolis were cancelled due to flooding.

Express Jet also claims TSA screeners at the airport had gone home for the night, so legally passengers couldn't get back on the plane.

"That was a logistic issue about getting us off the plane into some place where we could breathe and eat and be comfortable," said Christin.

Airport officials maintain passengers could have stayed on the secure side of the terminal and that it was the airline's decision to keep them on board.

An Express Jet spokesperson told us this afternoon, "We are thoroughly reviewing the circumstances that prevented passengers from getting off sooner and will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent this situation from occurring again."

Passengers were finally let off the crammed commuter jet and allowed into the terminal shortly after 6am.

"Everybody just went over to the Continental counter and they were emotional and they were screaming and they were yelling and that's the first time I saw a breakdown emotionally of all the people on board the plane," said Christin.

Express Jet Airlines is apologizing to its passengers. Continental says the incident was completely unacceptable and is offering refunds and vouchers.

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