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9 Answers

Drunk Captain Question

Asked by: 8430 views , , ,
FAA Regulations

What is the generally agreed upon answer to the often asked interview question:

- You are the First Officer, and you suspect that the captain you are about to fly with is drunk or has been drinking recently....what do you do?


- You think you smell alcohol on the Captain's breath before a flight - what do you do?

Most of the time on interview gauges I read people say "Don't report him!" - the exclamation point seemingly making this an obvious point. Maybe I'm missing something here but ....why wouldn't you report him (assuming you SAW him/her drinking?...what is the procedure to follow that would make sense and get you top marks in an interview.

Thanks for your input.

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9 Answers

  1. Koehn on Feb 19, 2011

    I’m not in the industry, for what it’s worth.
    If I were suspicious I would try to give the captain an easy out; remind the captain that the safety of the passengers (and his/her career) is in jeopardy, and a “sudden illness” could prevent a catastrophe. Make it clear that your next step will be to report the incident to the authorities.

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  2. bill williams on Feb 19, 2011

    Talk to him to be sure. If he is, encourage him to self-disclose the situation to the chief pilot and the union, no one else. And above all refuse to fly with him. There is less repercussion for a pilot to report himself than if someone else does, and the airlines,union and FAA have excellent programs to rehab pilots with minimal repercussions.

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  3. Paul Tocknell on Feb 19, 2011

    My answer is pretty similar to those above.  My response would be to ask the captain, “How are you feeling?  Are you sure you don’t want to call in sick today?”  If he doesn’t respond, then I would press him harder to discontinue.  Remind yourself that operating with a crew member that you suspect of being under the influence is a crime itself.  If that doesn’t work, call the chief pilot and voice your concerns.   

    On a somewhat related note, I’d encourage you to read this book called “Flying Drunk” by Joselph Balzer.  Mr. Balzer was a flight engineer from Northwest Airlines who, along with his crew, flew a 727 from Fargo to Minneapolis while intoxicated. The book is good, because the author does a good job describing the details that led up to the flight and how he could see the trainwreck approaching.  It also describes the serious aftermath of his actions and just how much those drinks cost him.  If you are just starting out in the industry, you should read it, it may save your career at some point! 

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  4. MaggotCFII on Feb 19, 2011

    Report the captain and add to the interview answer – according to the company/carrier policy.
    FAR 91.17 applies here; (a)(1) means he does not have to be under the influence, just has to have consumed within the last 8 hours.
    Any less of an answer and your panel will probably think you are willing to “cut corners” and are easily influenced – not the stuff 1st Officers and Captains are made of.
    It is your career, it is your life and as well as your passenger’s welfare.
    And finally, how much sweat, time and money do you have invested in your certificates?  Because if your Captain gets busted on duty and you are his FO, you are going down with him.
    And if it turned out to be some undiagnosed medical condition you have probably saved his career as well.
    This is a “buy the book answer” – period!

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  5. Best Answer

    Matthew Waugh on Feb 19, 2011

    The reason for many of the answers being “don’t report them” is because often the people doing the interviewing are pilots – and while the by the book answer might be pick up the phone and throw the captain under the bus (seniority number bumped one number by the end of the trip!) most “fellow” pilots like to think you’d give them a chance.
    Hence the answer is normally given as try to get the Captain to call themselves off the trip and self-report and, if all else fails, call yourself off the trip. It’s the common wisdom and, you’d suppose, if it was causing people to fail interviews it would have been debunked by now. My guess is that it’s a question ONLY asked by pilots, I can’t imagine HR wanting to go out on that kind of limb.
    I always liked the “You’re on a layover and agree to meet with the crew in the hotel lobby. What do you do if the Captain walks into the lobby in a dress?”

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  6. MaggotCFII on Feb 19, 2011

    Adding to Paul’s recommendation of “Flying Drunk”, there is an older movie, 1980, called “The Pilot” – Cliff Robertson.  Amazon has got it on VHS.  Deals with exactly what we are discussing here.  It is worth a view.

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  7. Ben on Feb 19, 2011

    “You’re on a layover and agree to meet with the crew in the hotel lobby. What do you do if the Captain walks into the lobby in a dress?”
    This is a good one. It got me the first time I read it…but of course the answer is: You do nothing out of the ordinary, your captain is female and it is therefore normal for her to be in a dress.

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  8. James MacGregor CFI on Feb 20, 2011

    Tell the Capt to stand down, ether way make sure he doesnt get near the cockpit. If he is smart he will just call in with a 24hr flu. people make bad decisions all day, however as the FO, you should keep him from making a REALLY bad decision.

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  9. David Rosenblum on Dec 30, 2012

    Agree with the above. Consider this: you choose to relent, you both get on board and start “doing that pilot s&@t,” and while you are, on walks someone from the FAA to conduct a ramp check. When Capt. Drunkerson hands the inspector his paperwork, the inspector also notices alcohol on the Captain’s breath. Game over! And you allowed it to happen. Protect yourself, protect your company, protect your livelihood. Just my $0.02…

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