Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flying the Drunken Skies.

Erwin Vermont Washington, age 51, has the distinction of being the third United Airlines pilot to be accused of being drunk on the job in the past 13 months.  Yesterday, he was  literally taken from the cockpit by police at London's Heathrow Airport, given a breathalizer test, which he failed, and carted off to the hoosecow.

When you put it together with an American Airlines pilot who was removed from a plane for being drunk ( also at Heathrow) and   the two Delta pilots who were caught with booze in their coffee while going through an airport checkpoint here in the States a couple of years ago, it kind of makes you wonder just how friendly, not to mention safe, those drunken skies are.

True, British law is stricter than American law about what constitutes too much alcohol in the bloodstream, but American pilots are not supposed to be drinking at all before a flight.  They should have zero alcohol in the bloodstream. So what is going on here?  The American culture of corporate corruption and worship of the almighty dollar seems to have trumped common sense once again.

We've got a problem, folks.  It's time to enforce the laws we have about making sure pilots  are qualified, well rested, and stone cold sober. We have drunk driving checkpoints on the highways.  How come we are letting our pilots fly drunk when we don't let motorists drive drunk?

I lay the blame on the deregulation of airline travel in 1978.  Back in the day,  the civil aeronautics board had ultimate control over fares, routes, and entry of new carriers into the market.  It put safety first and profit second. Deragulation phased it out and gradually exposed American carriers to the pressures of the market.  Yes, airline prices fell by more than 40% but airline travel, which had been quite comfortable, became what it is today-- like a ride in a cattlecar.  Frankly, I'd rather pay more for a ticket and know that the guys in the cockpit have their wits about them.

I'll tell you one thing.  The next time I fly to London it will be on Virgin Atlantic or British Airways.  No drunken skies of United or American for me.   I'll go with an airline that has some government oversight and some sane safetly regulations.


Susan said...

And how much of a factor do you think the fact that these pilots are apparently being paid poverty wages is? If what Michael Moore claimed in his latest movie is true, they're probably depressed, feeling hopeless and, God help us, maybe a little suicidal.

No excuse for endangering anyone else; no excuse at all. But perhaps a reason for this series of very disturbing incidents.

If the job doesn't pay well, why would the best continue to do it? Those that remain must be totally demoralized.

Great. Just who you want flying millions of people tens of thousands of feet in the air.

JamaGenie said...

What a greedy bunch of slackers Corporate America has become! If you aren't a suit in the corner office or the boardroom and don't own stock, you don't deserve to be paid according to your training and expertise. I nearly fell over upon learning commercial airline pilots are paid little more than a school janitor nowadays. (School boards being local, the janitor probably makes more...)

So how is one to know *before* boarding a potential deathtrap if the guys in the cockpit are (or about to get) tipsy??? You don't.

You betcha my next overseas flight will be on Virgin or BA (or maybe Iceland Air).

Thank you, "Uncle Ronnie" for doing away with all those pesky regulations that used to keep regular Americans SAFE *and* ensure decent wages for all.

pinkpackrat said...

Hi Susan and Jama-- and yes I agree with you about the pay of airline pilots, however I did look it up and while it seems that young pilots on regional airlines do indeed earn as little as $18,000 a year, which is shameful IMHO-- I have to admit that seasoned pilots who fly the big transatlantic planes for major airlines like United make six figures-- in the neighborhood of $150,000 which is more like it.

Nevertheless, when compared to what the big guys in the back office make, it is nothing I am sure

Also, Jama, to be fair, the airline deregulation came under Carter not Reagan. It was signed into law in 1978-- Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union which just put the icing on the cake.

JamaGenie said...

btw, I vowed years ago to never ever "fly United" again after suspending my long-time loyalty to American Airlines for what was to be a 2-part flight from KC>Chicago>South Bend. The employee attitude from KC-Chicago and on the ground at O'Hare was soooo bad that I ate the second part of the fare and took a shuttle bus from O'Hare to SB.

JamaGenie said...

Don't get me started on Carter! He's a great humanitarian and statesman, and was apparently a great governor, but should never have run for prez.