Two United Pilots Too Drunk to Fly, Passengers Entitled to Over $500 Apiece

The first and second officers on United’s Glasgow – Newark flight yesterday “were too sozzled to fly.” They were arrested. The flight’s captain was not involved.

The flight was delayed over 9 hours, and its 141 passengers “were offered meal vouchers and hotel accommodation if necessary” while United confirms that the pilots in question have been removed from duty (though in fairness it’s tough to perform flight duties from behind bars).

Apparently these two individuals, aged 35 and 45, had been partying the night before as though they’d be working flight 1999.

We’ve had a United pilot arrested for running brothels, the airline itself entering a federal non-prosecution agreement on bribery charges, and United Express pilots getting into a fight with each other. But United’s pilots are usually sober.

United Airlines Operates Glasgow – Newark With a Boeing 757

Need I mention that getting rid of alcohol from flights wouldn’t have helped this time?

This is hardly the first time airline pilots have been drunk recently. Earlier this year an American co-pilot wasn’t fit to fly. There’s even been a drunk TSA screener and a drunk federal security director. Not to mention drunk flight attendants in the U.S. and abroad (and they can cause problems when they’re sober, too).

But the TSA doesn’t do much for safety and even if flight attendants are there primarily for your safety it’s exceptionally rare that they’re needed for this. It’s the pilots whose sobriety matters. There was even a Denzel Washington movie about this.

Since Glasgow, Scotland is part of the UK and Brexit hasn’t happened yet, this flight delay should be covered by Regulation 261/2004 entitling passengers to significant cash compensation. United would be hard-pressed to declare their own pilots being drunk an extraordinary circumstance outside of their control when courts have ruled that mechanical delays don’t qualify and that airlines should be prepared for those (airlines are generally responsible for the mechanical conditions of their planes, and the flight-readiness of their crews).

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, 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. 2 pilots were arrested last month in Glasgow, too. Glasgow –> Toronto flight on AirTransat.

  2. The Flight movie crash scene haunts me to this day because it seems the film maker’s were trying to tell us something about the Alaska crash over the Pacific just outside LAX where the huge tail elevator locked and then flapped loose causing an uncontrolled plunge into the ocean. The pilot’s last words were “The good news is that we’re still flying. The bad news is we’re inverted.”

    The movie seems to hypothesize that something was known in the industry at the time about that the tail elevator (which had no redundancy) might be unlocked by inverting, causing one to wonder if the pilots had done it deliberately.

    What do you think?

    Incidentally, blame was put on maintenance contractors who created a new wear template that allowed more wear than before on the huge two-ton gears that controlled the elevator perched on the top of the MD-80’s tail. Alaska had outsources maintenance to try to save money. Many MD-80 pilots thereafter put their planes on the ground at the first sign of possible elevator malfunction since it remains the only major critical system without redundancy on any airliner.

  3. A. I’d like to know how these drunks get caught as I’ve seen these crews breeze directly into the plane after security at GLA and EDI. since there’s no crew room it’s obvious a team member has travelled with them on the bus from city to airport and tipped someone from security off!
    B. It’s time united stopped flying these old 757s on the uk to USA routes. Planes and crews all needing refreshed/ updated considering outrageous prices they charge for non London airports.
    C. United has a lotta PR work cut out to build confidence in UK travellers considering recent aborted flights of one of these rust bucket 757s TWICE in same week and now this!
    D. I’d be ruinous paying £800/900 to fly in the crappy Business First cabin on the only fight out of GLA to be delayed like this. (Drunks OR tech faults). United need to get their act together.

  4. Thanks for sharing Gary. Personally, I am disappointed that any commercial pilots would drink within 10 or 12 hours of flying. When I pay money to fly, I don’t want the pilots to be buzzed….tipsy…..drunk…..or asleep. It’s unacceptable for the rest of us professionals (I’m a former engineer) to have a “three martini lunch”, and we are at a desk not at the helm of an airplane!


  5. It’s breathtaking how long you made this post. Do you get paid by the word or (remotely applicable) link.

    Ummm “In 1971, a pilot was arrested for jaywalking and….”

    Sheesh. Brutal writing style.

  6. Some years ago in AMS, I ended up out drinking with 4 UA Pilots from around 6pm. They were drinking heavily (like under the table heavily.) I left at 3am – they were heading to another bar with no signs of slowing down. Evidently this was their AMS norm. Ran into the Captain at my hotel in full uniform checking out at 7am – OMG.

  7. “Ran into the Captain at my hotel in full uniform” – well we have to be grateful for small mercies. After a night out drinking he could have appeared in his birthday suit. Clearly UA pilots are proud of the airline’s uniform culture!

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