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Pioneer Editorial: Long flight delay was inexcusable

Being cooped up on a taxiway for 30 minutes in a hot airplane waiting to take off can be misery enough, but sitting on the tarmac for nearly seven hours waiting for weather to clear is inexcusable.

That's what 47 passengers on Continental Flight 2816 had to endure this weekend when the flight from Houston to Minneapolis/St. Paul was diverted to Rochester because of intense storms over the Twin Cities.

While the plane sat 50 yards from the terminal building, the passengers were refused the request to disembark and wait it out in the more spacious and comfortable terminal.

It appears the airline is citing national security issue, that Transportation Security Administration personnel had left for the night and the off-loading passengers couldn't' be searched.

It seems to us that there are many options, any of which would have been better.

The best one, one used earlier in the evening by another flight into Rochester, would be to bus the passengers the additional 85 miles to the Twin Cities and be done with it.

Another would be to release the passengers to the terminal, blocking them off from leaving the terminal building and thus being a security risk, Still another would be to simply call TSA workers at home and bringing them in to screen the passengers.

The worst was to let them sit for hours on a hot plane with crying babies, stinking diapers and no food and but one drink apiece. Not only is that a disservice to paying customers but also inhumane treatment.

Thankfully, the Obama administration on Tuesday opened an investigation into whether any laws were violated. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., also in letters to the Federal Aviation Administration and to Continental Airlines and its ExpressJet, asking for a comprehensive review of the incident.

"While the reported events of Flight 2816 are disconcerting in their own right, further troubling is that they come after repeated commitments by the airline industry to take action to preventing such occurrences. Clearly, more needs to be done to establish clear processes for the proper treatment of passengers during extended flight delays," said Klobuchar.

Already proposed and sorely needed is legislation pending in the Senate is a provision co-sponsored by Klobuchar that creates a "bill of rights" for airline passengers, including that which would require an airline to return passengers to the gate after a three-hour tarmac delay. The pilot would have the power to extend the tarmac wait by 30 minutes if there is reasonable intentions of takeoff clearance coming soon.

There are no excuses for such miserable waits, and they must end. Bemidji is lucky as a destination terminal, making it unlikely that a plan will wait long on the tarmac here. But there have been times that weather has kept planes out of Bemidji, but most of the time those passengers are instead bused to Bemidji. Or, at least , they wait it out in the spacious Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.

It does, however, appear that since incidents such as Continental Flight 2816 continue to pop up, demanding that legislation be put in place to protect airline passengers from unreasonable and unwarranted delays.