There are certain categories of people that, when they get in trouble with the law, garner a lot of headlines. Movie and TV stars (see Sheen, Charlie, and Lohan, Lindsay) seem to always attract media attention when they get into even a whiff of trouble. Likewise with professional athletes and high-profile business people, not to mention elected officials.
Add pilots to the list.
Whenever a pilot gets involved with law enforcement, it’s usually bad, and it tends to put the media in an uproar. The reasons are pretty simple. First of all, unlike the people listed above, we pilots actually have to worry about our actions not just affecting others, but also causing harm, destruction, and death. In short, people trust us with their lives.
Remember the crew of the America West flight in Miami that was actually taxiing out for departure before being called back to the gate, where they were found to be drunk? The outrage was justified and real. Likewise with other crew members who have shown up to the airport under the influence. Every airline has their own policies for handling this sort of behavior, but I don’t know of any airline that has adopted the FAA’s eight hour bottle-to-throttle rule; it’s more like 12 hours, and the 0.04 percent allowance given by the FAA is likewise superseded by a zero-tolerance policy. The flip side is that most airlines and pilot unions will do whatever they can to help get pilots into treatment programs and put their lives back on track when they ask for help. Further, they will also gladly accept a sick call and a cancelled flight over having crew members try to fly when they shouldn’t.
Social drinking is fine when it is done responsibly. Pilots with enough time on a layover frequently have a beer or cocktail with dinner, and the overwhelming majority act responsibly. That extends to their crew members cutting them off when necessary.
But it isn’t just drinking that causes problems. Remember the pilot who was found running naked through the woods after a dalliance with a flight attendant a few years ago? I know of pilots who have done one of the following: urinated in public; got caught trying to steal something from the clubhouse of a major league baseball team (he lost a fight with the police); been arrested and charged with corruption of a minor and having intercourse with girls as young as 13; failed a drug test. Another accidentally shot his gun in the cockpit of a USAirways flight. He wasn’t arrested, but he had some explaining to do.
People get arrested for mind-numbingly idiotic actions every day. But with pilots, there is a fascination with what we do. In addition to the responsibilities of our jobs/hobbies, we are expected to have above-average intelligence and the ability to use common sense in everyday matters. We are viewed as fairly straight-laced, conservative people who simply do stupid things. We have, like it or not, an image and a stereotype.
Whether you fly professionally or not, or just aspire to, accept that others have certain expectations, and if you make a mistake, you will likely face a harsher judgment from others, if not from the law. Further, if you are hoping to make a living as a pilot, bear in mind that in the post-2001 world, there are number of criminal activities that will render such a career impossible, as you will not be able to get the appropriate security clearances.
Remember, too, our individual actions reflect on all of us, not just ourselves.–Chip Wright