Horizon Air passengers left behind at Walla Walla airport

Officials want to avoid a repeat of 15 passengers being stranded while standing in line.

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WALLA WALLA - The security line seemed to move at a snail's pace on what was otherwise a normal Saturday check-in for Walla Walla resident and Horizon Air passenger Jan Corn.

Corn, who stood in the holding area at the Walla Walla Regional Airport after funneling through the security line, craned her neck to see what the holdup could be as she waited for her flying companion. "It didn't move for the longest time," she said.

She became anxious when the passengers who'd already gone through security screening began moving in a line of their own. Onto the plane.

Torn whether to get on the plane or wait for her companion, Corn decided to stay put. But she and 14 other ticketholders were ultimately left behind when the Q400 plane took off without them.

In an effort to get their travel plans back on track, she and the other passengers had to drive or find a ride to Pasco. To add insult to injury, Corn was charged $325 for re-routing to her final destination by the airline.

The June 26 incident is apparently not the first of its kind, but it is the biggest, as far as airport and Port of Walla Walla officials are aware.

At a time when communities - especially small ones - are losing air service, officials are determined to find out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

Port officials are planning several initiatives to mitigate a potential recurrence. Commissioners have encouraged staff to purchase a flat-screen television set for the secured passenger waiting area. They've also authorized employees to see if some kind of coffee service can be provided inside that area to encourage passengers to go through security. Additionally, Port and airport officials plan to have stickers made and distributed at the Horizon check-in counter to encourage people to immediately proceed to security.

A meeting with Horizon and TSA is expected to work out further measures.

"When they left 15 people behind in Walla Walla, I think something went terribly wrong," Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said during a Port meeting last week. "I think Horizon should have shown a little discretion."

But Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund said a look at the security tape from that Saturday shows passengers who missed the flight may share some responsibility.

Skoglund said she stopped the tape in five-minute increments to observe that morning's happenings. TSA opens screening at 5 a.m., and Horizon opens its counter at 5:15 a.m.

Although people were processed one at a time between 5:20 and 6 a.m., multiple people didn't start forming into a line until 6:05 a.m.

By 6:20 a.m. - the time when Horizon's ticket counter closes and the plane starts boarding - 10 people were lined up at the ticket counter to check in. Another 11 were waiting in the security line to filter through. That line grew to its longest - 18 ticket-holders - at 6:30 a.m., Skoglund said.

She believes air travelers may not be taking seriously the airline's recommendation to arrive an hour and a half before the flight.

"It just makes you sick when that many people are left behind," she said.

Local resident Richard McFarland, a frequent flyer who was not a passenger that day but attended last week's Port meeting, told commissioners he believes the airline's practices have been inconsistent and service has deteriorated over the last two years. For instance, during one flight that was diverted last year passengers were told by the flight crew that ground transportation would be made available. But when the plane landed, the ground crew had no plan to organize transportation, McFarland said.

He said the June 26 flight is another example of an inconsistency. "It's appalling that they can't make a call when 20 percent of the customers can't get on the plane," he said.

Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller, who also owns World Wide Travel Service, said changes must be made to prevent this from happening again.

"I just cannot fathom 15 people being left behind and Horizon and TSA not taking some responsibility," he said.

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