Transportation Dept hits airlines with fines for stranding passengers

The Department of Transportation (DoT) levied historic penalties against two airlines for having unreasonably stranded passengers at an airport over the summer.

DoT fined Continental Airlines and Mesaba Airlines for their role in an incident this past summer that kept passengers grounded on a cramped airplane overnight. The airlines will also give refunds and pay "additional compensation to materially acknowledge their discomfort," the Transportation Department said.

"I hope this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an official blog post on Tuesday.

The fine comes before the Thanksgiving holidays this week and various other holidays in December, when travel throughout the country often spikes.

Passengers on Continental Flight 2816 were stranded in Rochester, Minn. the night of August, 8, according to a USA Today account of the incident.

Continental will pay $100,000 in fines, while Mesaba, which handled ground handling for the flight, will pay $75,000.

"Look, this is just no way to treat passengers, customers, or anyone. You can't strand people overnight without access to the basics," LaHood said. "It's not right; it's against the rules; and I am proud of the Department's Aviation Enforcement Office for its investigation into the complaints of these travelers and for its responsiveness."

The secretary said that the DoT would work to strengthen protections against long tarmac delays in the future.

Update, 3:11 p.m.: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) commended the fines in a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the next step is for lawmakers to now take up a Passenger Bill of Rights:

“These penalties send a strong message that airlines should not leave passengers stranded on a tarmac for hours on end. In this case common sense flew out the window but unfortunately for the passengers the windows were shut. We need to put a national set of standards into law to prevent this from happening in the future. The next step is to bring the Passenger Bill of Rights to the floor of the United States Senate for a vote.”

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