From time to time this scenario occurs and pilots for major airlines get caught breaking the rules. Recently it happened again and it always starts a conversation the most pilots don’t want to have with passengers. Does it happen? Sure. Does it happen a lot? No.
Currently when it does happen is the first thing that happens is that it goes viral over social media. I stumbled upon a post this morning with many comments. Of course you can’t stop comments but many of them instigate trouble based on ignorance and that more or less causes a feeding frenzy. I am not defending the guy that got busted with a sky high blood alcohol content at all, in fact it makes my job harder, and that annoys me. What we never hear is the reason why this happened. Instead it’s a bunch of unsolicited comments from people that do not fly for a living mixed in with the usual social media crowd that is not shy about being as indignant as they want.
So what happens to the pilot? Well it’s pretty much game over for his or her career. If they were to self disclose their problem that would be one thing, but to try and go to work is another matter completely. Not only is their career over but moving on to another aviation career is probably not going to happen either. Like most people when it comes to drinking, they probably did not think about those consequences at the bar or restaurant.
Another aspect that begs to be inquired of is why didn’t the other crew members say something and keep this from happening. A simple observation from the other pilot or maybe the cabin crew could have prompted the pilot to call in sick and avoid the whole ordeal. Maybe the pilots did not get along. Perhaps they were both together and only one drank when the other did not. It also could be argued that the crew did not notice any unusual behavior from the offending pilot. You never know how this unfolded but there is a lesson from this we can learn from. We need to be responsible and aware of one another. We need to make a subconscious checklist if we notice something off. A couple of uncomfortable questions can save a lot of headaches.
There are also other factors that we are unaware of that could have been part of this scenario. Our mental health is becoming increasingly important and as a society we are doing a much better job of not stigmatizing mental health. Stress plays a big part in why people turn to coping mechanisms. Maybe the pilots home life was struggling, maybe kids with problems were on their mind, the scenarios are endless. Today there are more programs than ever and all a crew member has to do is raise their hand and they get help. The question is how does this affect their careers. A couple well placed rumors or silly social media posts can inhibit someone fro raising their hand because they are afraid it will impact their careers negatively. This secrecy is not uncommon and can often lead to more serious incidents such as pilot suicides. My airline had three in one year and it begs us to ask the question, why? Is the industry stressful? Sure it is. Does management make life difficult with either questionable decisions or perhaps lack of attention? Sure they do, there is nothing new under the sun.
But maybe what most people see as a glamorous life of travel, staying in different cities and experiencing different cultures, others view as completely different. I am constantly amused by Instagram posts that show cabin crew members from all over the world posting pictures with captions such as “living my best life” or “when your dreams come true”. I often ask myself whether or not they realize that they are crew scheduling whipping boy or girl and realize that for every good layover you get there are ten other short stays you would rather forget about. These are newbies that have not figured it out yet. Hotels can be daunting 12x12 jail cells to some who would much rather be home. In general all pilots would rather be home, that’s why the “go home leg” is often tweaked a bit for a little bit faster arrival. The truth is some pilots don’t like to be away, they don’t want to eat “tourist” food and sleep in beds that others have slept in. The glamor quickly wears off when we realize this is just a job. Travel can increase anxiety but we never think to ask, especially when making social media comments. Instead we give silly responses that only fuel conversations in a negative direction.
So what should pilots do? To be honest, be aware and save the beers for when you get home. It’s just not worth it. Even at home our jobs can be at risk if we are drinking and somehow get pulled over and maybe even get a DUI. We have to pay attention, sometimes that means staying home or perhaps letting our spouses drive. But we all have to realize that maybe that simple logic eludes people that could really be struggling.