US levies fines on airlines who stranded passengers

Washington, Nov 25 (DPA) Three US airlines were fined a total of $175,000 Tuesday for leaving passengers stranded nearly six hours on an aircraft, the first-ever such penalty imposed by the US government.

Continental Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines were fined a total of $100,000 and Mesaba Airlines must pay $75,000 for their respective roles in keeping passengers on the plane in Rochester, New York, in August.

The Continental Express flight, which was operated by ExpressJet, was flying from Houston to Minneapolis but was diverted to Rochester because of bad weather. Mesaba was the lone airline providing ground staff at the Rochester airport.

The plane landed at 12.30 a.m. but passengers were kept on board until 6.15 a.m. An employee of Mesaba told the flight’s captain that everyone had to remain on the plane because there were no security screeners working. The Transportation Department said the passengers should have been allowed into a secure area of the airport.

“I hope that this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travellers,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.