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October 21, 2008

One for My Baby, and One More for the Road

by Guy Martin

Good pilots would not be good were it not for a steely confidence brought about by training. Arrogance can be defined as the abuse of that training. We have an excellent example of such arrogance out of Heathrow: On Sunday, a 44-year-old United Airlines pilot was arrested in the cockpit of his San Francisco-bound aircraft. He's strongly suspected of drinking before the flight.

The investigation will tell us more, but given the early departure--9 a.m.--it's likelier, or it's more generous to believe, that he was hung over and still had an elevated blood alcohol level from a bender the night before than it is to think that he was slamming shots for breakfast. Although some headlong drinkers certainly do both.   

The terse early reports from the Metropolitan Police/Heathrow Station are that the man is out on bail, due to report back to Heathrow police in January on the equivalent of a desk-appearance ticket. For their part, United swiftly placed the pilot on leave, pending investigative results. The thornier questions remain. What was he thinking? The answer to that is, obviously, that he wasn't. Put another way, his arrogance was such that he thought he could pilot a Boeing 777 for 5,300 miles under the influence. According to the Daily Telegraph, one of the ground staff is thought to have turned him in. But: Just when it seemed that our pilots were the last bastion of our inflight trust--the bastion of trust that need not be doubted--this incident seems to raise the specter of yet another "control" system.      

Because the only thing that worked this time was that he got ratted out by somebody who saw him drinking, or who thought he was drunk.

So, to our passengers out there: Should we run a Breathalyzer test on all pilots before each flight, or just some of them some of the time, or none of them ever?    

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