Trapped on a Plane: Passenger Recalls Travel Nightmare

Professor Link Christin one of 47 passengers stuck on a plane overnight.

August 10, 2009, 9:50 PM

Aug. 11, 2009 — -- The plane smelled. The passengers were hungry. The toilet had overflowed and dirty diapers were mounting.

Yet the passengers on Continental Airlines Flight 2816 sat on that plane for hours at the Rochester, Minn., airport even though, some people say, there was no reason they couldn't have been allowed into the terminal.

"We were told different things at different times," passenger Link Christin said. "They kind of made their way through the night with making us think this was going to be over fairly quickly."

The Aug. 7 flight, which originated in Houston and was supposed to fly to Minneapolis, was diverted to Rochester because of severe storms. But instead of being let off the plane to rest in the terminal, passengers were left overnight in the plane.

By the time the 47 passengers were allowed off the plane early the next morning, more than 10 hours after they'd left Houston, some of them hadn't eaten for as long as 18 hours, Christin said, only to be placated with a coupon for one free beverage.

Christin said passengers were led to believe throughout the ordeal that they'd either be off the plane or on their way within a half-hour to an hour, with the flight attendants continuoually asking for patience.

At one point, he said, "they changed that to say they were going to get a bus to take us back to Minneapolis."

Christin, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., has flown without incident for 40 years and said there were several steps the airline could have taken to alleviate the problem.

"We should have been allowed to get off the airplane," Christin said, recalling how people were hungry, thirsty and had to use the bathroom. "All of those needs could have been taken care of in the terminal, and the terminal was 50 yards away."

Kristy Nicholas, a spokeswoman for ExpressJet Airlines, which operated the flight, said passengers couldn't go to the Rochester terminal to wait out the storms because they would have needed to redo their security screening, and screeners had gone home.

But Rochester International Airport Manager Steve Leqve said that simply isn't true.

"The passengers certainly could have come into the airport at any time," he said.

Continental has issued an apology to passengers, calling it "completely unacceptable" and offered refunds and vouchers for future travel.

The airline, Christin said, was lucky nothing serious happened to any of the passengers.

Trouble in the Skies Continue

This is just the latest mishap for Continental Airlines. Several passengers were injured, a few critically, earlier this month when a Continental plane made an emergency landing in Miami after severe turbulence.

The airline was criticized this spring for losing track of young children that were flying solo in two separate incidents. And pilot error has been blamed as the cause of the Continental crash in Buffalo, N.Y., in February.

Christin told "Good Morning America" today that this experience is exactly why Congress should pass the stalled passengers' Bill of Rights. The proposal mandates that passengers should be allowed off the plane after three hours of sitting on the tarmac.

Christin said many of the passengers on his flight were frustrated, numb and exhausted. They were eager to get home.

Christin said he was given a bag of pretzels when the plane departed Houston but was never offered anything else to eat for the next 10 hours.

He noted that the flight attendant did offer passengers drinks when the plane first landed in Rochester, but then never offered another beverage afterward.

It took 2½ hours to reboard the same plane after the passengers were allowed off and the plane still had a full, smelly toilet. The flight then headed to Minneapolis, where it landed at 9:15 a.m., almost a half-day after it left Houston.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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