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.