DOT lets Express Jet off the hook for “stranding incident”; I can’t

Posted on 27. Aug, 2009 by in Airline Safety, Blog

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said;

ExpressJet Holdings’ flight crew “was not at fault” for the Aug. 7-8 incident in which passengers were stranded overnight on an ERJ-145.

He squarely places the blame at the feet of a Masaba Airlines Representative who;

“improperly refused” to allow the passengers to deplane.

Sorry; I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the Express Jet Captain. The Captain, not the Agent, is required to know the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations). The Captain, not the Agent, is responsible for the safety and well being of their passengers. Even if the Captain didn’t know the rules, which in and of itself is inexcusable, she should have at least exercised Captains authority and declared the aircraft, which was out of supplies and had an over flowing lavatory, unsafe.

This incident encapsulates what is wrong with the airline industry. A passenger buys a ticket form Continental Airlines for flight 2816; when they arrive for their flight they learn it is outsourced by a commuter. Not only is the aircraft a tiny cramped RJ, there’s a good chance the crew is not very experienced. They set out and are diverted, due to weather, to a small airport with no company support and no plan.

Upon landing (because the Regional’s schedule to the absolute limit of FARs) the crew knows they are illegal to take off. At that point, there is absolutely no reason to stay on the aircraft, none. They cannot take off again and not only is there no company support, there are no reserve crews. Thus, the aircraft cannot move for eight hours. The Express Jet crew asked to deplane and were told no, due to TSA personnel not being on duty. Well anybody whom has ever traveled by air (especially airline crews/agents) knows TSA is required to get ON an aircraft, not OFF. Again, a reminder, they cannot get back on for another eight hours.

An experienced Captain at that point would have dropped the steps, or demanded the ground crew put a set up to the aircraft and deplaned, I know because I have personally seen it. The RJ crew begged to be let off for five hours and thirty two minutes.

The result of these weak links in aviation is more and more regulation that tries to legislate experience and common sense. Congress and the FAA are forced to get involved because inexperienced and over-scheduled crews are not doing their job. Who is at fault? If you ask the passengers it is Continental, which is who they bought their tickets from.

No Responses to “DOT lets Express Jet off the hook for “stranding incident”; I can’t”

  1. Rick 27 August 2009 at 15:02 #

    Excellant case made here. I know this airplane very well, because CO Express Jet fly it out of BNA and it’s my primary carrier. The stairs drop very easily. She sould have called the FBO Signature Flight Support or Express Jet and asked for a bus to be sent over and to arrange accomodations.
    Your point about TSA needing to screen to get in a facility rather than out is also a big no-brainer.

  2. Rick 27 August 2009 at 17:17 #

    And one other thought… appears..but I can’t know for sure, that she didn’t talk to ground control after she talked to the terminal people. I thing Ground would have helped her here. They know the FAR’s better than anybody else on the property. I’m guessing fatigue fogged judgement here.

  3. Rick 27 August 2009 at 18:14 #

    I guess 3’s a charm. Another observation…because this episode disturbs me a lot…all military officers are drilled in exercising on-point initiative and leadership in decision making. So, it would seem this Captain probably lacked that life experience. I’m also disturbed by a lack of ground situational awareness when there was a 24/7 FBO out there that I would have reached out to if I were in that seat. I’m not familiar with Express Jet policies…but my God, don’t they give their captain’s the lattitude of resourcefulness?

  4. Chip 27 August 2009 at 18:26 #


  5. Chip 27 August 2009 at 18:35 #

    Man, my own computer was locking me out of my own site. Had to re-boot. One of the things that has been diluted over recent years is Captains Authority.

    Certainly being an Officer in the Military helped; but so did watching an old Captain do his job. Most take their authority from the FARs very seriously. an agent telling them no, would have delayed the door coming open by about 5 seconds.

    Again it comes down to experience and training. No one wants that RJ job, they can only get the kids (and change of life pilots to do it). And they are all looking for the exit door ASAP.

    What has made this fairly transparent until recently is new aircraft with much improved systems. they are getting older now.

  6. Rick 28 August 2009 at 08:12 #

    But would that Captain have had the authority to at least reach out to the FBO? After all, it’s there and open 24/7. If she had come up in the business doing any GA she would have had a lot of experience with them. I’m wondering why she wouldn’t have used that resource.

  7. Chip 28 August 2009 at 08:26 #

    Under the FARs the Captain had the authority to do anything once she deemed the cabin inhabitable and thus un-safe.

    However that is a side issue, and would not have been necessary. The terminal was open and available. At no time was the crew prevented by any regulation (Airport or FAR) or physical barrier (they had internal steps) from simply de-planing the PAX and walking them a short distance to the awaiting terminal.

    That is why I can’t let them off the hook. It was a no-brainer. At first they tried to lay it at the feet of the airport. They got an ear-full from the airport manager. Next in line Masaba. BUT! The Captain is responsible for the passengers not an agent.

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