Lots of airplanes sat idled with stranded passengers on lots of aprons for two or three hours this weekend, with airlines blaming weather.
At least two -- both Minneapolis-bound, what luck Twin Cities! -- sat for longer on Friday -- for 5 1/2 and 4 hours respectively. These were Sun Country Flight 242 and Delta Flight 1140.
In both cases, runway work at the Minneapolis airport and bad weather were cited.
If it's not one thing, it's another.
On Aug. 8, in the most infamous recent case, a packed ExpressJet plane sat stranded all night at the airport in Rochester, Minnesota, where it had been diverted from Minneapolis by bad weather. In a blistering preliminary report, the Transportation Department blamed dispatchers from a rival carrier, Mesaba (flying for Delta Connection on behalf of Delta, on a flight coded as Northwest) for inaccurately telling the captain of the Expressjet flight (flying for Continental Connection on behalf of Continental) that the plane couldn't come to a gate to let suffering passengers off because the airport was closed for the night. It isn't clear yet what authority Mesaba had to speak for the airport itself. A full report is pending from the DOT.
Again, the Business Travel Coalition, a trade group representing corporate travel buyers, denounced the nearly three-year pattern of "nightmarish" conditions imposed on stranded passengers, some of whom have sat on idled planes for more than 12 hours.
The trade group quoted a former airline board member, "Beyond three hours, the airlines need to fix the problem, and if they are forced to do so, they will."
They are about to be forced to do so by the Transportation Department and by congressional legislation on passengers rights. It's going to be very interesting.