A common interview question about drinking

I’ve mentioned the issue of the occasional pilot getting into trouble for drinking on this blog before. But this time, I’d like to get a bit of feedback from our readers, many of whom are presumably considering a career as a professional pilot.

Here is the scenario: The FAA requires that a pilot not have alcohol for eight hours prior to flying (“8 hours, bottle to throttle”). Most airlines have a more restrictive rule, usually requiring at least 12 hours. Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that you are a first officer with an airline, on an overnight. You have a morning report of 6 a.m. in the hotel lobby for the ride to the airport; the flight departs at 7 a.m. You’ve been in XYZ city since noon the day before, and you and your captain each go do your own thing for the day.

Situation A: You come back to the hotel at 8 p.m. and see your captain in the bar having what is clearly not his first drink.

Situation B: Here is a twist, one to muddy the waters a bit. Again, you and the captain head off in different directions after arriving at the hotel. You return that evening and go to bed, not having seen hide nor hair of anyone else from your crew. The next morning, you watch the captain come out of the elevator, and it is clear that not only has he been drinking, but he is also either suffering a pretty good hangover or may even still be a bit tipsy. Now what do you do?

Pick your scenario, and give us all a chance to see how you would react. If the feedback is plentiful, I will do another post in a week or so, and I will also throw in my own opinions on how to handle both of these situations.

These are two very common interview questions, and while the circumstances are rare to see in real life, they have been known to happen. Airlines want to know how you would handle a similar incident should you find yourself in either predicament.

Have at it!–Chip Wright

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  • EJ

    It’s a tough scenario because you want to balance respect for the Captain with respect for the regs. In scenario A, I would go up to the Captain and clarify/remind him that we have to report at 6am. I would then see how he is in the morning which would take me to scenario B.

    For scenario B, I would point out to the Captain that he is not looking well and that he should call in sick. If he refuses, I think at that point I would feel obligated to report him. At the very least, I would try to get ahead of him in the TSA line and slip a word to the agent. I’m not sure what the airlines have in the way of reporting procedures. This is all assuming I’ve failed at repeated attempts to convince him to take a sick day.

    I would feel obligated to report him because there is a reason why there are 2 pilots are up front. Yes, I could look the other way and handle the flight, but what if I’m just starting to work the line and still doing my IOE, and the weather is calling for minimums and icing? Or what if I become incapacitated before the Captain sobers up? As pilots, our ultimate responsibility is to get the aircraft and its contents from point A to point point B, safely. Having a hungover or drunk Captain could jeopardize that. We all know how hard it is to get to left seat of an airliner and that’s why I would want to give the Captain every chance to do the right thing. But in the end, if an incident happened, in my opinion it would be worse to have to explain to the FAA, NTSB, and the airline why I let the Captain in the cockpit, then it would be to have a Captain mad at me. We can’t get along with everyone, so if you’re going to have someone angry at you, it may as well be for a good reason.

  • http://AOPA Dave Billings

    Senario A. I would approach the Captain in the bar to see if he may be drinking a non-alcoholic beer, verify. If apporpriate, ask him if everything is all right.
    Senario B. If the Captain does not willingly call in sick, I would tell him he needs to report himself. If he refuses, ask him what he thinks I should do.

  • Corey

    I am not persuing a career as a pilot and I am unfamiliar with the regs for commercial pilots, but as a recent instrument pilot (one who has lost fellow pilots to thoughtlessness), I am aware of the potential catastrophic results that can occur from not being on your A-game in the cockpit.

    Scenario A: I would join the Captain at the bar, offer to buy him a non-alcoholic drink and order an appetizer off the menu, if available. I would give him every benefit of the doubt in this scenario. If he accepted, I would spend an hour or so shooting the shit and sharing the appetizer with him before calling it a night. If he refused, I would politely remind him of our departure time and head to my room. An hour later, I would head back down to take a peek at the bar to see if he was still there.

    Scenario B: I would pull the Captain aside and let him know that he looks under the weather and should call in. He would, more than likely, asure me that he is capable of flying the plane (most people would have already convinced themselves by the time they made it to the elevator), but I would tell him that the consequences aren’t worth the risk and that it would be much better to err on the safe side. If he still remained adament, I would report him.

  • Mike Havener

    This is a no brainer. As professional pilots, yo are responsible for the lives of not only your passengers, but every living human you over fly. Ther eis absolutely no excuse for taking that responsability lightly. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other ways to earn a living the don’t require the dedication and character of a professional.

  • Mark C.

    I am not, nor will I likely ever be, an airline pilot, but I was thinking along the same lines as EJ. However, being the paranoid person that I am, before approaching the captain I’d grab my phone or pocket camera and snap a couple photos of him at the bar, making sure the time and date stamps are correct, just in case he decided that tanking my career was the best way to protect himself against my possibly reporting him. I’d probably also get the name and contact information of the bartender for the same reason.