Two Trans States Planes Diverted to Nebraska, Planes Later Fly On Without Passengers

In a second recent incident of its kind, about 100 passengers on two airline flights diverted from Denver because of bad weather were left behind at a Nebraska airport on Feb. 8.

Darwin Skelton, airport manager at Scottsbluff, Neb., said crews of United Express and American Connection flights left the passengers behind about six hours after landing. The flights, from Madison, Wis., and St. Louis, diverted to Scottsbluff because of fog in Denver.

"It's the first time I've ever seen anything like it, and I hope it doesn't happen to passengers again," Skelton says.

The incident occurred less than two months after two United Express jets diverted to Cheyenne, Wyo., after a blizzard hit the Denver airport Dec. 20 and left without their passengers. Skelton and a passenger, Fran Van Hoogstraat, a business traveler from St. Louis on the American Connection plane, contacted USA TODAY after an account of the Cheyenne incident was published Tuesday.

At Scottsbluff, some passengers rented the few Hertz cars available at the airport, but most later that night boarded a Denver-bound charter bus arranged by Hertz. Scottsbluff is about a 3 1/2-hour drive from Denver.

Van Hoogstraat says passengers were angry. They didn't know what to do and received no direction from the airlines or the pilots, she says. "Nobody communicated with us."

Both planes in the Nebraska incident were operated by St. Louis-based Trans States Airlines, which operates flights under contract with American, United and US Airways. The planes took off from the Nebraska airport without passengers at 4:20 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Bill Mishk, Trans States' vice president of marketing, says the pilots took off only after they learned that buses would be sent for the passengers. "If there was a breakdown in communications, we certainly apologize for it," Mishk says.

Skelton says he talked to the pilots before they departed, and they were unsure when buses would be sent by their company.

Hertz manager Jessica Ryks says she contacted a local bus company after the planes left and collected $20 from each passenger to pay for them. As she was preparing a final receipt for a passenger, she was notified that United Express and American Connection would pay for the buses. She refunded the money.

United Airlines, spokeswoman Megan McCarthy says, apologized "for not communicating soon enough to our customers." American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner says he's unaware of what happened in Nebraska, and it isn't American's responsibility. "Trans States is responsible," he says.

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