Two airline pilots made news on August 3 when they almost made it into the cockpit to fly a United Airlines airplane from Glasgow, Scotland. If it wasn’t for alert observations, the pilots would have freely gone through security screening and proceeded to fly the airplane. That could have resulted in a tragedy.
The international flight, United Flight 162, was a flight to Newark, New Jersey. It was canceled and the passengers were rerouted onto other flights when the pilots failed the routine breath test that was fortunately given before takeoff.
The pilots were arrested in Scotland under suspicion of being under the influence. Glendon Gulliver has subsequently been charged in a Scottish court with being over the legal limit. The other officer was released without charge.
As a result, the United Airlines alcohol rules for pilots has changed. United’s manager of flight operations manual, Henry Canada, notified pilots of the policy change by immediately issuing a new “safety alert,” enforcing a 12-hour no-alcohol policy before entering the cockpit. The new “bottle-to-throttle” took effect August 10 with flight attendants being subject to the policy starting August 17.
The crew must refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages at least 12 hours before they report to work. This is more strict than the eight hours required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Unfortunately, the amount of time between drinking and flying is not easy to enforce unless the pilot actually admits to it or it is reported by someone else.
The federal policy of blood alcohol content(BAC) in pilots is 0.04% or lower. In almost all states, it is a crime to drive a car at or above a BAC of 0.08%. Some of the other countries have even more stringent rules. An example is the United Kingdom where the maximum for pilots flying from there is 0.02% BAC. Some countries insist on a blood alcohol content of 0.00% and state their punishment criteria as well.
Whether or not United’s major US competitors will follow United’s lead is yet to be determined. Thus far, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines have said that their airlines are not considering any changes. Their policies are in accordance with the FAA’s current standard of not drinking within eight hours of reporting for duty.