Pilot pleaded for stranded passengers

WASHINGTON The Department of Transportation confirmed this Friday. It said recordings of conversations between the pilot of Continental Express Flight 2816 and a representative of Mesaba Airlines show the airline repeatedly turned down requests to allow passengers to enter the Rochester, Minn., terminal because Transportation Security Administration personnel had left for the day.

Transportation officials said that was incorrect -- passengers could have stayed in a separate "sterile" area.

Mesaba was the only airline with staff still at the airport during the incident earlier this month. The plane left Houston at 9:23 p.m. local time on Aug. 11, but was diverted by thunderstorms to Rochester. Passengers were kept for about six hours waiting inside the cramped plane amid wailing babies and a smelly toilet even though they were only 50 yards from a terminal.

In the morning they were allowed to deplane. They spent about two and a half hours inside the terminal before reboarding the same plane. They arrived in Minneapolis, their destination, after 11 a.m. CDT.

The flight was operated for Continental Airlines by ExpressJet, a regional carrier.

Mesaba is a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines, which is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines.

"There was a complete lack of common sense here," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "It's no wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated."

A spokesman for Mesaba parent Delta Air Lines Inc. did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

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