Drunk British Airways Pilot Pulled Out of Cockpit

A British Airways first officer onboard London Gatwick to Mauritius was pulled out of the cockpit on Thursday night prior to departure.

Cabin crew had dialed ‘999’ for assistance after smelling alcohol on the 49 year old pilot.

“Cops rushed onto the plane and headed straight for the cockpit.

“The first officer was cuffed and led away.

“A number of passengers were open-mouthed.

The airline found a replacement pilot. They departed about 2 and a half hours late and made up around 40 minutes of that in the air. Everyone was safe. Although it’s striking that cabin crew smelled the alcohol and reported it, while the captain and the other first officer — who would have gone through preflight checks with the man — said nothing.

Standards for pilot blood alcohol are far more stringent than for someone driving a car. In the U.S. the standard is “eight hours bottle to throttle” and a blood alcohol limit of .04. Some countries have 12 hour rules and any trace of alcohol being impermissible.

Of course this is hardly the first time we’ve heard about pilots trying to fly after drinking. There was the American co-pilot who wasn’t fit to fly and the two United pilots on the same flight. There was the 737 captain last year who blew a .24. And the Indonesian pilot who couldn’t balance himself so airport security helped him walk instead of stopping him. Thirty Air India pilots have reportedly blown positive in a 3 year period.

There was even a Denzel Washington movie about this.

When something like this happens it is news, in part because it is rare. On the other hand it’s very serious and one of the under-reported issues with airline and safety culture is that there’s little room for a pilot to raise their hand and get help with a problem because doing so jeopardizes their position. As a result they hide it. Alcoholics are often highly functional, until they’re not.

(HT: One Mile at a Time)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That “Flight” movie is haunting because a subtext is the horrific crash of Alaska 261 which actually flew upside down during the time the pilot tried to regain control after the huge tail-mounted horizontal stabilizer’s gear stripped out and left it flapping around. The MD80 is the only large jet that had no redundancy for such a critical system, and pilots had theorized that if it locked it place they could “invert” to unlock it as a last resort, the scenario eerily shown in the movie. Some thought this is what the Alaska pilots were trying to do just before they crashed into the Pacific, when the last words were: “The good news is we’re still flying. The bad news is we’re inverted.” The NTSB confirmed that outsourced maintenance had substituted the template for measuring the gear’s wear with one that saved money. The MD-80 is still the only airliner flown that has no redundancy on this critical system.

  2. “Although it’s striking that cabin crew smelled the alcohol and reported it, while the captain and the other first officer — who would have gone through preflight checks with the man — said nothing.”

    You know nothing about BA’s procedures or the particulars of this incident. So keep the conjecture and hyperbole to yourself chubby.

  3. What the hell is going on at BA? I mean we know that the British love to get sauced, but this is outrageous. The Asian airlines have their own cultural issues of deference in the cockpit which has caused hundreds of deaths – is this the British version? Covering for drunk colleagues? This is serious stuff.

    In regard to the above idiot poster, use your detective powers, as I say to my kids. If the reporting is correct – the flight was about to go, and the offending pilot is still in custody – then clearly there was a huge failure up front.

  4. So, are we learning that pilots are not given some sort of breathalyzer test before doing an aircraft pre-flight check? The airline has a thousand different constraints on crew assignments, but they have to assume that an intoxicated pilot will self report or be detected by other airline staff?
    I have to wonder how rare this is, since it is likely we only hear about the pilots that are caught. Lets not forget cabin crew, as they hopefully have the same requirement.
    Just to keep crewmembers honest and to protect the brand name, I would start breathalyzer testing pilots and crew and post the numbers on a billboard, right next to D0 statistics, so customers can decide if they want to fly that airline.
    When airlines figure out that customers want successful takeoff’s and landing’s, then they can move on to more important things like D0, pilot job satisfaction, and executive bonuses.

  5. Well “Steve” how did your detective powers work out the captain was “covering up for him”, surely not from Gary Leffs assumptions about the intimacy of the pre-flight checks procedures enabling exchanges of breath. The poor captain might genuinely not have got close enough to smell anything. This is pure conjecture and sensationalist journalism, report the facts yes, conjecture no.
    Shame on you Leff for another trial by press of a third party.

  6. In a world where safety procedures are well thought out and highly elaborate, sometimes hazards spill through the cracks. One of these hazards in airline travel is intoxicated pilots. A situation where an intoxicated pilot is airborne has great potential to become tragic. Heff gives many examples of pilots who were caught with a blood alcohol content that was too high. He explains how this is a very serious issue and how “there’s little room for a pilot to raise their hand and get help with a problem because doing so jeopardizes their position.” (7)
    The first point Huff makes that caught my attention was the fact that the captain and the other first officer did not notice the smell of alcohol on the pilot. It almost seems too odd to be true. If the two pilots are in the same cockpit together then it would mean the other pilot had to have noticed the smell of alcohol. I’m not accusing Huff of false information, it just doesn’t add up. Another piece of information that Huff included was the standards for blood alcohol content. In my opinion, 0.04 is too high. If a pilot is responsible for the transportation of paying individuals then they should also be held responsible for not consuming alcohol prior to flight. The last comment I want to make is on the assumption that pilots won’t seek help because it could possibly leave them without a job. It seems that a pilot would be more likely to lose their job after being caught flying intoxicated compared to letting someone know before takeoff. If the pilots aren’t seeking help in concern of being an inconvenience to their passengers, a 2-3 hour delay would be better than an increased chance of crashing.

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