Two United Airlines pilots were arrested this weekend after attempting to board their transatlantic flight intoxicated. Police arrived at the Glasgow Airport as the pair tried to pass through a staff check-in before their 9 a.m. flight to Newark, New Jersey.
“Concerns were raised and the police were called,” said an unnamed source. “There was a fair police presence as it’s a sensitive and highly secure part of the airport. Staff are subject to intensive and thorough security procedures in just the same way as passengers. No chances are taken nowadays.”
The plane was grounded for most of the day, finally taking off at 6:30 p.m.
A police spokesperson reported, “We can confirm two men, aged 35 and 45, have been arrested and are presently detained in police custody in connection with alleged offences under the Railway and Transport Safety Act (2003) Section 93.”
Section 93 refers to the prohibited act of “carrying out pilot function or activity while exceeding the prescribed limit of alcohol.”
This incident followed a similar occurrence from six weeks ago in which two pilots suspected of being over the alcohol limit were arrested at the same airport just moments before their plane was due to take off. Police boarded the cockpit of the AirTransat plane and removed the men around 1 p.m. on July 16.
The scheduled flight to Toronto, Canada was grounded for the rest of the day and passengers were put up in hotels overnight. Inconvenienced passengers have also been promised up to 500 British pounds (about 653 U.S. dollars) in compensation.
These recent incidents are just the latest in a series of pilot scandals plaguing the airline industry. Last year, a pilot was jailed for flying an executive jet after a three-day binge. Ian Jennings was detained at Norwich airport after landing the chartered plane transporting millionaire Andre Serruys and a woman and three teenage girls. His blood alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit and he was locked up for nine months.
Last April, a Jet Blue pilot was charged with flying while intoxicated with 151 passengers on board a flight from Orlando to New York.
Last August, four of the five crew members on an AirBaltic flight failed alcohol tests while transporting 109 passengers. The co-pilot was seven times over the alcohol limit.
Every day, more than 8 million people travel via airplane, which is why the drink-fly limit is so stringent. In the United Kingdom, the blood alcohol limit for commercial pilots is 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood – less than half the driving limit in Scotland.
“The dangers for air crew are the same, if not worse, as those presented by [drunk driving],” said aviation expert Martin Greenfield. “It’s all about safety – this must be paramount at all times. I personally would have no sympathy with any pilot who would take a chance with their alcohol level. Pilots and ground staff who fall foul through their own misjudgment face heavy sanctions both in terms of the law and their career.”