This just hasn't been Commuter Airline's week.
On Monday, if you remember, the airline inadvertently bumped White House consumer advocate Esther Peterson off of a flight to Corning, N.Y., where she was scheduled to be the keynote sparker at the first annual convention of consumer "Action Line" reporters.
But then things got worse.
On Tuesday night, Gary Laden, who studies the problems of unexpected product risks for the Federal Trade Commission was scheduled to be a featured speaker at the same convention yesterday, boarded Commuter's last flight - Number 551 - scheduled for Corning.
But 10 feet down the runway, the plane's nose gear collapsed, crashing the front end of the the aircraft into the ground.
Laden never got to Corning.
"What REALLY bothered me," said Laden, who studies unexpected product risks for the FTC, "was the fact that they didn't do anything to help me find another flight, and there were no efforts made to accomodate any other passengers."
Linden said he first sensed problems when he got to the gate for the 8:15 p.m. flight at 7:30 p.m. and "no one was there to check us in."
"There was a sign saying that there would be a person there an hour before flight time," Linden said "and there was also an "800" (toll free) number for people to call if no one was there."
Laden said when he called the "800" number he was told that sometimes the pilot of the arriving plane comes out, takes tickets, and checks passengers in.
"Sure enough," he said, "that's what happened. Only the flight was about half an hour late coming in."
And after the accident, in which none of the four passengers of the Navajo Piper was hurt, the pilot scurried to the back, opened the door and asked everyone to leave, Laden said.
After he discovered that the airline would do nothing to get him to his destination that night, Laden discovered that Commuter, because of its size, is virtually unregulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and is thus not required to compensate stranded passengers.
Commuter president Jerry Winston said "it was the end of the day and our pilots were out of flying time. We asked the passengers involved to take our first flight the next day, and two of them did.The problem is we don't have enough equipment to handle all people we have to."
Commuter's business soared when Alleghany Airlines dropped some unprofitable routes, including Washington-to-Corning, last summer.
But even though Commuter purchased two 50-seat Convairs from Allegheny, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to certify the airline to fly the large planes. "We only have a total of 158 seats," Winston said. "We are flying with backup equipment now."
One of Commuter's biggest customers, and the now speakerless consumer conference sponsor, is Corning Glass Works, Inc. Corning's president, Thomas MacAvoy called Commuter Airlines "a real problem from my standpoint. I only hope that Esther and Gary's problems help to focus attention on this, and the problems with deregulation when it causes cities to be served with small commuter airlines like this one.
He called Commuter's personnel, "barely civil. The company is just not responsive and it's difficult even to talk to them."
Commuter owner Winston disagrees: "I think we should be applauded. We try to do the best we can."