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Alcohol-Related Interview Scenarios II

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Wing, Nosewheel, Whatever
Dec 19, 2001
Previously I posted a discussion on the first of four alcohol-related situations I discuss in my book that are sometimes posed to applicants in airline interviews. That question dealt with a crewmember you were scheduled to fly with seemingly not being in compliance with the minimum time between bottle and throttle. As you saw, things are not always as they may seem.

When you are asked questions about situations involving alcohol it’s important to understand that as with all scenario-based questions, more information will help to better illustrate the true nature of the problem. The difficulty with alcohol-related problems is that the most critical information you need is clinical and you have neither the training nor the equipment to gather it and analyze the required additional information.

Another problem that is somewhat unique to alcohol related situations is that the process of resolution involves interpersonal relations - specifically direct confrontation. When faced with an accusation of drunkenness most people will immediately and vehemently deny the allegation. Whether it’s because they genuinely believe that they are not drunk or because it’s a drunken reaction to another’s recognition of the inebriation, a person’s typical response to such an accusation is nearly always identical to the defense mounted against a deeply personal attack worthy of substantial vigor. In short, simply bringing the topic up will almost certainly result in a strong disagreement at a minimum.

Keep these things in mind as you read the following discussions. There are as many ways to deal with unruly people as there are unruly people. You just have to pick the point at which you will make your stand and tolerate no more. You must then decide exactly how you will make your stand as well as what help you’ll need in making it. Beginning with a calm and collected approach to information gathering lays the foundation for both. It is this process you should strive to pout on display in the interview. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer as long as the law is obeyed. It’s the process that counts.

Please read about question 2, 3, and 4 to learn how other situations might manifest themselves and what you can do to keep the furor to a minimum.

2. On the first leg of a three day trip you climb into the cockpit and begin to notice that your partner smells of liquor. What are your actions as the First Officer? As the Captain?

The obvious problem here is that if you can smell it so will the passengers and any roving FAA inspectors on the ramp. You have a big problem. But is it a drinking problem? That’s the part you don’t know right away and frankly it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that none of the aforementioned people be exposed to the crewmember in question. There are many things that can cause a smell like the one described here and most of them are perfectly reasonable and legal. As we saw in the analysis of the last question, you’ll need to find out what the facts are before you act, but in this case you’ll need to do that later. The first thing that has to happen is you have to get off the airplane.

You might begin resolving this problem by asking your partner if he smells anything. You might discover that he had noticed the same smell and was wondering the same things about you as you were about him. Now that it’s out in the open you can work more effectively at discovering the source of the smell.

Another possibility is that he doesn’t notice the smell, or at least that is the claim. If this occurs you should point out that you smell something and you think it could be a serious problem if a passenger smelled it also. The suggestion that you both leave the airplane would be a well placed one here. This would accomplish two important things. First it would get both of you into the open air where the smell, if it really is coming your partner, would be further diffused and would be less likely to be detected. Second, it would probably prevent the station from putting passengers on the plane since the presence of at least one crewmember is usually required to do this.

Getting off the plane is the quickest way to solve the problem in the short term but what about after that? The answer depends on what is causing the smell. If it is being caused by something that the other pilot stepped in or had spilled on himself you can take care of that with a change of clothes or shoes. If the problem arose from something spilled on the carpet of the plane, getting off the plane will reveal this and a cleaning crew can be called before passengers are loaded. The last possibility is the most distasteful and should be handled with great care. The method of confronting the person suggested in the analysis of the previous question is a good solution that will probably solve the problem quickly one way or another.

3. As you greet passengers at the aircraft door one of them appears to be slightly intoxicated. What are your actions as the First Officer? As the Captain?

Once again, what you don’t know may be more important than what you perceive to be true. If your passenger really is drunk it’s not legal to carry them and therein lies the problem. However, there are some medical conditions that may make people act intoxicated when they haven’t had anything to drink at all. Some of these conditions can even make them smell like they have liquor on their breath. If you accuse someone with one of these physiological conditions of being drunk or if you simply can’t prove the that individual was drunk and you deny them boarding, you might be exposing the company to a lawsuit based on your incorrect or unsubstantiated assessment of their condition.

If you’re the first Officer you’ll need to bring the condition of the passenger to the attention of the Captain for a decision. If you’re the Captain you’ll need to make that decision. The decision you make should be based on the degree of impairment you observe. You also need to assess what impact the individual might have on the other passengers as well as the safety of flight. The bottom line is that unless the person is in an obviously violent and unruly state you will probably allow the person on the airplane.

4. As you greet passengers at the aircraft door one of them says, "Hey, I know you! You were just in the bar! I saw you there." What are your actions as the First Officer? As the Captain?

This one may seem tricky but it’s really a no-brainer once you’ve thought about it. The most common way for people to approach this is to try to repair the damage that has been done in the eyes of the other passengers by the erroneous and irresponsible accusation of the passenger. The problem with attempting this is that there is no way you personally can do this to the extent required. Once your sobriety has been called into question there is only one way to prove that your integrity is beyond reproach in this area; you must be tested.

If you’re the First Officer, you know by now that you must inform the Captain of the accusation and let him come to his own conclusion. If he does not decide to delay or cancel the flight and have you tested then you might want to suggest it or maybe insist on it. Even the slightest hint of impropriety can bring the FAA crashing down on your head and all it would take is one phone call from one unnerved passenger who overheard the accusation and was unsure of the veracity of the subsequent denial. Don’t take any chances. Get tested!

If you’re the Captain and either you or your First Officer are accused of having been drinking recently you should immediately put any thought that the flight can proceed normally out of your head.

Most companies prefer that ground personnel escort passengers back off an airplane if there is some sort of a problem that develops during or after the boarding process. If this happens to you contact the station agents and inform them that they will need to take the passengers off the plane and the flight will need a new crew if one is available.

You will then need to address the passengers. You should explain very clearly the nature of what has happened and that although the accusation is false, the flight cannot continue until testing has been completed. Apologize for the inconvenience and explain that station personnel will arrive shortly to escort them back to the gate area where all necessary arrangements can be made. Beyond that, you should let your Customer Service Representatives do their job.

This may seem a bit of an over-reaction but consider the stakes both for your career and for the company. The company may not like the fact that the flight canceled but they would like it even less if they had to endure the bad press and the inevitable investigations if you continued to fly like nothing had happened.

Hope this helps with a little perspective.

It's called "The Only Aviation Interview Book You'll Ever Need!"

E mail me at the address shown and I'll tell you how to get it.


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