Two United Pilots Too Drunk to Fly – Again – Passengers Entitled to Over $650 Each

When the first officer of the Exxon Valdez first told Captain Joseph Hazelwood about being ‘on the rocks’ he said “no thanks matey, I’ll have mine straight up.”

When in remote Alaska or Glasgow, Scotland the temptation for both sea captains and airline pilots is to drink, it seems. Today’s United Airlines Glasgow – Newark flight UA162 was cancelled when two pilots failed a breathalyzer before boarding the aircraft.

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

Police were called around 7:35 a.m., in advance of the flight’s scheduled 9 a.m. departure. The pilots were arrested and “remain in police custody pending a scheduled court appearance on Tuesday.”

A United spokesperson says “the safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority.” Of course the top priority of these pilots was getting tanked enough to think they were Gary Busey and Joaquin Phoenix debating who really killed Bruce Lee.

Pilot drinking stories are sad. As I noted this week when a Delta pilot was removed from a Minneapolis – San Diego flight over alcohol this is something that happens with every airline and is a difficult problem to solve with pilots feeling shame and fearing loss of their career if they seek help.

Three years ago, also in August, two United pilots on another Glasgow – Newark flight were “too sozzled to fly” and arrested leading to a flight cancellation.

Glasgow – Newark is Operated by a Boeing 757

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. Given the distance and that passengers won’t reach their destination within four hours of schedule, they’re clearly entitled to 600 euros cash each (US$677).

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. Wow- think about how much they must have drank the night before to still be drunk the next morning. I know alcoholism is a disease, but that’s beyond sad that someone would think it’s ok to fly a plane after drinking.

  2. The Upper Deck Priority Pass Lounge in Glasgow has a 4 alcoholic drink limit per adult. That seems plenty generous.

  3. I’ve had a number of flights qualify for the max EU compensation—filed a claim with the airline every time (KLM, AF, Lufthansa, Delta)……guess how many times I actually collected any compensation…..? Zero.

    Either ignored the claim (and later “lost” my submission) or found some bogus reason not to pay (literally, “mechanical issues en route to Africa don’t count” and “the mechanical/aircrew delay was not our fault”—a form letter not even corrected or auto fill text selected properly).

    I’m so over the “your entitled to $X” talk from government or airlines…my experience is that it .never actually happens.

  4. @Tim the flight was a 9am departure so they probably showed up a couple hours before that. If they got plastered & were in bed by 3 or 4am they’d still be legally intoxicated

  5. I think this is a bit over dramatized for clicks with links to Prince’s 1999 and other innuendos like that. Not excusing any of this, nor do we know exactly what the facts are. But I highly doubt these dudes showed up Homer Simpson drunk to the airport. The limits are so tight over there that you could easily have just a couple too many the night prior, feel perfectly normal in the morning (like countless of us who had a few evening drinks and then drove to work in the morning) and then blow over the limit. Not saying that is what happened, but I’d wager my own money that that is the much more likely scenario than what Gary implied with his post of guys showing up completely soused. Again, not excusing anything, because pilots know what the deal is over there. Just trying to bring some perspective.

  6. I’m a retired airline captain. My company had a policy of 12 hours -0- alcohol prior to flying. I never drank on trips, and still never drink if I am the transportation home. I’ve never understood taking such a risk when we are paid well to do what we love. Becoming a pilot and making it to the “majors” is a very difficult undertaking. For most pilots, it takes years of flying at regionals or small cargo companies. When I was a pilot it took an average of 15 years. Well, hope they get help, understand the gravity of their mistake and are able to get their jobs back. If not, hopefully they can find work outside of flying.

  7. @Erik “I think this is a bit over dramatized for clicks with links to Prince’s 1999” that’s just called ‘my sense of humor’ which, is of course, very much YMMV. 😉

  8. @Joe – there are plenty of voices on the interwebs, I don’t everyone to appreciate mine, especially when it comes to my sense of humor. I wrote it because it amused *me*. I mean, read the very first sentence, it’s an Exxon Valdez joke. Funny to me and maybe like six other people, obviously setting the tone for the post, and it bothers me not at all when some others don’t appreciate it.

  9. This is not a comical act these two pilots committed. The penalty should be immediate dismissal from flying. Our lives as passengers place our lives in the hands of a flight crew. I flew with the Air force for 5 years as a crew chief . I didn’t fly the aircraft but I still was responsible for a airplane that carried passengers, and took pride in my job. These two pilots are not new with United, you need seniority to fly these routes. I was a former (Retired ground service instructor for 40 years with United) and employees like this give United a bad name ! Thank you for catching these two, now get rid of them !

  10. Did you know that one of the United pilots convicted of being drunk on the job in 2016, and served time, is still flying! He’s a pilot for a cargo airline. I wonder what the second convicted drunk pilot is doing? Does he still have a pilot career somewhere?
    Why does the FAA allow a convicted drunk pilot to continue to fly?

  11. The issue is not only inebriation, but rather that these pilots are imprudent, have poor judgment, and can’t follow rules — all very bad qualities for civil aviators responsible for hundreds of lives and multi-hundred million dollar aircraft. Drivers of automobiles in many places are able to live with zero-tolerance alcohol regimes and lose their license if they have any alcohol in their blood while on the road, and pilots should have no problem foregoing alcohol when the price of an aviation accident is vastly more grave than on the road.

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