Today's announcement that fines have been imposed on three airlines for stranding 47 passengers for six hours overnight on a plane at the Rochester, Minn., airport does raise a few questions. The fines, totaling $175,000, were the first ever imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Airline Enforcement Office against any airlines for stranding passengers aboard aircraft, according to the Reuters international news service. The questions? There's an Airline Enforcement Office? The first fines ever? This is certainly not the first stranding -- what has the Airline Enforcement Office been doing all this time? A check of the agency's Web site offers no clues, except that the agency has been in existence for at least 10 years. Now, according to the site, the agency is proposing new rules to require airlines to do more to reduce the likelihood of stranded passengers and to take better care of them when it does happen. Continental Airlines and its affiliate, ExpressJet Airlines, were fined $100,000 and Mesaba Airlines, a unit of Delta Air Lines, was fined $75,000 for the
Aug. 8 incident, in which a Continental Express jet operated by ExpressJet en route from Houston to Minneapolis was forced to land at Rochester because of bad weather. The passengers were kept on the plane because Mesabe, the only airline operating in Rochester at the time, refused to allow them to deplane and enter the terminal because there were no federal security officers on duty. But AEO officials determined that Mesaba could have allowed the passengers to enter the terminal to wait, provided they stayed in the secure area, Reuters said. Why isn't that a matter of simple common sense to airlines?