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Last Friday, passengers onboard Continental Express flight 2816 were packed into their tiny plane like sardines during a staggering 7-hour overnight delay. The Minneapolis-bound flight left Houston in the evening and was forced to stop in Rochester, Minnesota due to thunderstorms. While the delay itself was inevitable, the prohibition of passengers to get off the plane to stretch their legs and get some proper sleep has heads in Washington turning – and has now prompted a formal investigation by federal officials.

The latest in a steady stream of reported long-term tarmac waits on domestic flights (from October 2008 through June 2009, there were 855), the incident may help to pass legislation currently moving through Congress that would require airlines to return passengers to their gate after a 3 hour holdup. Concerned transportation secretary Ray LaHood blogged that “flyers and those who are considering flying want to know that should a delay occur, they will be treated respectfully.”

While Continental is offering vouchers and refunds for their stranded passengers, hopefully long waits inside the airplane will soon be a thing of the past.

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