It wasn’t just the bust in Scotland that moved United to ban pilots from drinking alcohol less than 12 hours before a flight. Instead, it was a desire to restore trust from a skeptical public and a recognition that some nations place an even more stringent requirement than U.S. law mandates.
Up until yesterday, pilots were allowed to drink up until eight hours before their duty flight. We don’t know if that was violated in Scotland, where two pilots were arrested on August 3rd for reporting for duty intoxicated. Per a bulletin obtained by Brian Sumers:
This policy is being changed to help assure pilot compliance with standards established by the United States and individual states where United operates around the world.
That seems quite reasonable to me. The United Kingdom, for example, has a legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02, which is half the amount permitted in the USA. Why, after two incidents in Scotland, even take the chance?
As I argued in an earlier post on this matter, I really don’t think the issue here is intoxication. Rather, it’s about trust and judgment; it is about being sober beyond the shadow of a doubt. Why even raise questions over sobriety? Just be sober. Some are weak and some are strong. This rule better guards the weak while not unduly burdening those who have no trouble processing liquor quickly through their system.
The bulletin to pilots from Flight Operations Manager Henry Canada added:
It is essential that pilots understand that minimal compliance of United’s policy does not assure compliance with DOT [Department of Transportation] or individual state standards.
“Countries outside the United States have differing policies which include a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.00% and punishment criteria. It is the sole personal responsibility of the pilot to report for duty as defined by the Company, DOT/FAA, or the governing country.
It is indeed the sole responsibly of the pilot. But the consequences far outstrip the pilot alone. One rogue gate agent, pilot, or flight attendant can smear the reputation of an entire organization.
United’s stricter alcohol policy for pilots is not just a knee-jerk response to embarrassing headlines. I see it as a helpful step to recognize that some countries restrict alcohol far more than in the USA. Abiding by those guidelines helps to rebuild the public trust and protect pilots. Sometimes we do need protection from ourselves…
What do you think about the new stricter alcohol policy for United pilots?