A routine, three-hour flight from Houston to Minneapolis Friday night turned into what one passenger called a "nightmare," with the cramped plane's 47 passengers stranded on a tarmac for six hours, then spending another three-and-a-half in a terminal before completing their trip.
Adding to the passengers' discomfort -- the smell of the only toilet on board and the sound of crying babies.
Continental Airlines Flight 2816 left Houston at 9:30. Around midnight, the pilot announced the aircraft was being diverted to Rochester, Minn. due to thunderstorms in the Minneapolis area.
When the plane got to Rochester, it stayed on the tarmac -- and stayed, and stayed, and stayed -- with its passengers inside.
"It's not like you're on a [Boeing] 747 and you can walk around,'' Link Christin, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they've got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.''
ExpressJet Airlines, which operated the flight for Continental, says airline regulations prevented passengers from getting off the plane, and security screeners had gone home for the night, anyhow. Not only that, says the airline, but efforts to arrange a bus trip failed, and the plane's crew passed the legal limit on hours it could work, so another crew had to be brought in.
Christin says the only food ExpressJet provided was a bag of pretzels and the only drink, one free beverage. What's more, "The smell of the bathroom was getting worse, the smell of the babies was getting worse," he told the newspaper.
"You're almost numb," Christin remarked to CBS News, "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."
At roughly 6 o'clock in the morning, the passengers were allowed to go into the airport terminal. "Everybody just went out to the Continental counter and they were emotional and they were screaming and they were yelling," Christin recalled for CBS News.
They got back on the plane some three-and-a-half hours later and by then, the toilet was kaput.
The plane landed in Minneapolis at roughly 11 a.m.
ExpressJet issued an apology, saying staff and crew were "ensuring safety and following federal regulations. We will fully investigate the issue, since this does not meet out standards for customer service."
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