The Transportation Trust Factor

Watercolor of a pilot in the cockpit, waving hello.

Whether by plane, train or automobile, we enlist our trust with someone else when we travel. 

We trust the person behind the controls is well-rested, well-fed and knows the route.  We trust they’re paying attention and not texting.  We trust safety is their top priority.

Earlier this week, an American Airlines pilot was arrested in Manchester, England amid accusations he had booze in his system prior to flying a massive jet across the Atlantic Ocean.

This case isn’t isolated.  There are a handful of cases every year where pilots have shown up to work, suspected of being under the influence. 

While the incident this week is certainly concerning, it is not an everyday occurrence, according to an expert in aviation and airport security.

“Intoxicated airline pilots are a rarity in the industry these days, compared to the 1960s and 1970s, when this issue wasn’t taken nearly as seriously,” said Jeff Price, a professor at Metropolitan State University.  “Today, pilot unions have Professional Standards personnel that can intervene if a pilot, or another pilot, feels that an individual has a drinking problem, especially to the point that they can’t stay sober long enough to fly the plane,” said Price.

Price notes, pilots are often asked during the interview process, “If you were assigned as the first officer on a flight and when you met the captain at the gate you detected alcohol on their breath, what would you do?”

While Price feels there are a number of ways to deal with this dilemma, “the key point is that you don’t let the person fly,” he said.