Continental, Express.Jet, and Mesaba deal with the overnight Tarmac Crisis

One defining characteristics of a crisis is a violation of constituent expectations.  In other words, things do not happen like they should.  For example, your flight departs then arrives, roughly on time.  We expect there can be some delays.  However, we do not expect to be held in a small airplane overnight for seven hours on the tarmac just 50 yards from the terminal.  Continental Express Flight 2816 for Continental Airlines left Houston at 9:23pm and did not arrive in Minneapolis until 11am the next day.  Thunderstorms caused the plane and its 47 passengers to be diverted to Rochester, MN.  Upon landing, the crew was told they could not deplane that evening.  The next morning, passengers were deplaned and then sent to Minneapolis after a 2 ½ hour wait. The US Department of Transportation has launched an investigation.  Here is a summary of initial actions and comments:

“The Transportation Department has sent Continental Airlines a letter asking who was responsible for the well-being of the passengers ‒ Continental or ExpressJet, the regional air carrier that operated the flight for Continental ‒ and why the flight remained on the ground as long as it did. Officials also want to know what procedures the two airlines have in place for deplaning of passengers on diverted flights if airport security personnel aren’t present.

Continental spokeswoman Julie King said the airline is cooperating with the Transportation Department’s investigation. She said the Houston-based air carrier adopted a policy earlier this year that no passenger should be subjected to a tarmac delay of three hours or more without being offered an opportunity to get off the aircraft provided that can be done safely.

A spokeswoman for ExpressJet, also based in Houston, didn’t respond to a request for comment.”

Here are some additional crisis responses:

“Continental is apologizing to passengers who were stuck on the tarmac for six hours when a Houston-to-Minneapolis flight was diverted because of bad weather.  Continental says the incident was ‘completely unacceptable.’
The airline is also offering refunds and vouchers. Continental Express 2816 was operated by ExpressJet Airlines,
which handles regional flights for Continental. It was diverted toRochester, Minn., and landed about midnight.
Passengers weren’t allowed to leave the plane until 6 a.m. Saturday.

ExpressJet says passengers couldn’t get off because security screeners had gone off duty. But officials at the Rochester airport say the passengers could have stayed on the secure side of the
terminal, and it was Continental’s decision to keep them on the plane.”

Continental referred calls to Express.Jet as part of its response. 

A preliminary investigation has assigned responsibility:

” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a preliminary investigation by his department found that ExpressJet, the regional carrier which operated Continental Express Flight 2816 for Continental Airlines, wasn’t at fault in the tarmac stranding.

Instead, blame for the incident, which has revived calls for greater consumer protections for airline passengers, belongs with Mesaba Airlines, whose representative incorrectly told ExpressJet that the passengers couldn’t be allowed inside the terminal because Transportation Security Administration personnel had left for the day, LaHood said.

Actually, security regulations allow for deplaning passengers to be kept in a separate ‘sterile’ area until they are ready to board, he said.

‘We have determined that the Express Jet crew was not at fault. In fact, the flight crew repeatedly tried to get permission to deplane the passengers at the airport or obtain a bus for them,’ LaHood said Friday in a statement.

‘There was a complete lack of common sense here,’ the secretary said. ‘It’s no wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated.’

Mesaba was the only airline with staff still at the Rochester, Minn., airport that Friday night.”

Questions to Consider

  1.  If you were managing the crisis for Continental, what type of crisis would you label this event and why?
  2. If you were managing the crisis for Mesaba, what type of crisis would you label this event and why?
  3. How did Secretary LaHood’s comments change the crisis for Continental? For Express.Jet? for Mesaba?
  4. What role did the airport as an organization play in the crisis?
  5. How effective was Continental’s crisis response?  Justify your answer.
  6. How effective was the Express.Jet response?  Justify your answer.

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