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FAA fines airlines for stranding

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Federal aviation regulators fined three airlines $175,000 Tuesday for stranding passengers overnight in a plane in Rochester, Minn., officials said.

The penalty is the first by the Federal Aviation Administration involving passengers being left on the tarmac for an unreasonable period, The Wall Street Journal reported. The companies involved are Continental Airlines and ExpressJet, a Continental feeder, as well as Mesaba Airlines, a Delta subsidiary.

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Flight 2816 was carrying 47 passengers from Houston to Minneapolis in August when thunderstorms forced the crew to divert to Rochester. FAA officials said a Mesaba employee refused to reopen the terminal after the airport closed for the night to allow passengers to leave the plane.

Continental and ExpressJet agreed to pay a total penalty of $100,000 while Mesaba is to pay $50,000. The settlement ends the FAA investigation.

In a statement, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "I hope this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers."

The Mesaba employee said passengers could not enter the terminal as there were no Transportation Security Administration personnel on duty. But passengers could have entered what is known as the "sterile" areas of the airport, the Transportation Department said.

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