The cost of an overnight diversion

Apparently it is $100,000 for the operator of the flight, with an additional $75,000 for the company handling ground operations at the airport.  Those are the amounts of the fines handed out by the US Department of Transportation following the diversion of Continental Express flight 2816 to Rochester, MN where it sat on the ground with the passengers still on the plane overnight (previous bits here).

This is the first time ever that an airline has been fined for such an event and the amounts involved are not trivial.  Even more interesting is that both the operating carrier and the ground handler were hit, essentially spreading the blame.  Such a sharing makes a lot of sense – way more sense than anyone was making that night based on the audio transcripts that came out.

Here are the juicy bits from the DoT Press Release:

Continental and ExpressJet, in separate orders, were found to have violated the prohibition against unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation because ExpressJet failed to carry out a provision of Continental’s customer service commitment requiring that, if a ground delay is approaching three hours, its operations center will determine if departure is expected within a reasonable time, and if not the carrier will take action as soon as possible to deplane passengers.  ExpressJet also failed to take timely actions required by its procedures, including notifying senior ExpressJet officials and providing appropriate Continental officials with notice of the delay.  Continental was found to have engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice since, as the carrier marketing the flight 2816, Continental ultimately is responsible to its passengers on that flight.

The consent order covering Mesaba finds that the carrier engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice when it provided inaccurate information to ExpressJet about deplaning passengers from flight 2816.

Most interesting of all that to me is that they got hit for deceptive trade practices.  That term has a rather broad-reaching scope and it seems like a lot of potential to get the airlines in trouble if they don’t behave well.  Continental and ExpressJet clearly violated their customer service commitment – not part of the Contract of Carriage or any other legal document that I can figure, but still something that they claim to adhere to – and they were punished for it.  Mesaba, on the other hand, was apparently simply punished for being a bunch of idiots when the plane finally arrived at the airport.  That is certainly an interesting precedent for the DoT to be setting.  I wonder if they will consider applying the same reasoning against airlines which arbitrarily decide to renege on tickets after they’ve been issued.

The only real concern that comes out of this is that the enforcement is so very arbitrary.  That and the fact that the customers don’t see any of that cash.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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