What to do if the captain smells like alcohol?

Danny Beckett
  • What to do if the captain smells like alcohol? Danny Beckett

    Suppose you're the co-pilot on a flight and during pre-flight, talking to the captain, you smell alcohol.

    Although you didn't see him drinking and the smell isn't strong, what does regulation stipulate you should do?

  • This is clear cut. You are required to wait 8 hours after taking a drink of alcohol before you fly a plane. According to FAA regulations:

    (a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—

    (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;

    (2) While under the influence of alcohol;

    (3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety; or

    (4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

    (b) Except in an emergency, no pilot of a civil aircraft may allow a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs (except a medical patient under proper care) to be carried in that aircraft.

    (c) A crewmember shall do the following:

    (1) On request of a law enforcement officer, submit to a test to indicate the alcohol concentration in the blood or breath, when—

    (i) The law enforcement officer is authorized under State or local law to conduct the test or to have the test conducted; and

    (ii) The law enforcement officer is requesting submission to the test to investigate a suspected violation of State or local law governing the same or substantially similar conduct prohibited by paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(4) of this section.

  • Unfortunately, at least in the US, the regulations don't stipulate that you do anything. Airline policy is a different matter, and one which I cannot speak to, as it will be different in every case.

    I can provide some background and my own take on this, but it's hard to have one exact answer (what if you're wrong?).

    FAA regulations rely on pilots self-regulating. If a pilot drinks within an 8 hour (or, as is often policy for airlines, 12 hour) window prior to the flight, they are required to remove themselves from that flight. If they do not take this action, somebody else must. Often, this person is the First Officer, a junior pilot who has years of flying with pilots who might come to view them as untrustworthy. Perhaps this can help explain why it's such a difficult action to take.


    This is a difficult topic, and one which regularly comes up during airline flight training. That said, the courses I took that discussed this scenario essentially landed on a couple of steps (this was years ago, this is probably a bit rusty):

    1. Confront the pilot. Ask them if they've been drinking in the last X hours. If they claim they have not been, or they push back:
    2. Attempt to explain to them the situation they're putting their career (and you) in;
    3. Try to get them to remove themselves from the flight and contact a union representative.

    Beyond that, I don't want to make suggestions. Getting them to talk to the union they are a member of is probably a wise idea, as they can offer possible solutions or arrange treatment if the pilot has alcohol abuse problems (which is not a huge stretch, if they're showing up to work reeking of booze). AOPA Flight Training has a blog post that discusses some similar scenarios.

Related questions and answers
  • Suppose you're the co-pilot on a flight and during pre-flight, talking to the captain, you smell alcohol. Although you didn't see him drinking and the smell isn't strong, what does regulation stipulate you should do?

  • In Airplane there is a famous sequence: Roger Murdock: Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off. Captain Oveur: Roger! Roger Murdock: Huh? Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er. Captain Oveur: Roger! Roger Murdock: Huh? Victor Basta: Request vector, over. Captain Oveur: What? Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324. Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence. Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor? Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over! Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over. Regardless of the silly dialogue, when the captain asks

  • 47 CFR 87.87 requires the captain of a US registered aircraft to have their Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RP) unless it is a domestic flight. How do you go about getting one? I used the FCC's website a long time ago and remember that it is terribly confusing. A great answer would include step-by-step directions for those that haven't had to do it yet!

  • I'm from Brazil, and here we use the West/East rule, so we use an odd flight level when we fly between 0/360 - 179, and when we fly between 180 - 359 we fly in an even flight level. But what should you do in other countries? Where I can find those rules? I've heard that in Europe it's totally different, and that in some countries in Asia they use meters, instead of feet. Where can I find this information?

  • I worked on Russian Fighter aircraft where both the Rudder Pedals were mechanically interlinked i.e Captain applies force on his pedal than both pedals (Captain & First Officer) move & vice versa. Single Pedal sensor Unit (of course redundant sensors) senses the position and sends it to the Fly-By-Wire Computer for moving the control surfaces. I would like to know if this is true for all aircraft (Fighter/Commercial, Boeing/Airbus, etc.) and if not, what are different implementations? Maybe different sensors for Captain/First Officer, different arch etc. Also on the same lines, how

  • If someone does a contract flight, or a mechanic does contract maintenance for an aircraft owner and they refuse to pay after the fact, what options do they have to "encourage" the owner to pay? One of the big problems is that this tends to happen informally: Owner: "Hey, can you do this flight for me?" Pilot: "Sure, I charge $xxx." " Owner: "Okay, great. See you on Monday morning at 9:00." Pilot: "Sounds good, see you then." So they show up, do the flight, send an invoice, and wait. And wait.. And wait.... After a few weeks or 30 days, they send the invoice again. Give

  • I know that for land aircraft and seaplanes that they require separate endorsements to fly them. However, for the case of amphibians, what do you need to fly one? Do you need to have another, completely different endorsement, or just a seaplane and land endorsements? What about if you always fly it on water or land?

  • on the ground/view of rwy)? c). other? BTW: I did read How do you request a "pop up" IFR clearance? . In my scenario I have the time to call FSS, there is no emergency, I'm on flight following...): a). do I ask approach directly for the IFR clearance, and what is the officially sanctionned phraseology? Also: do I have to cancel IFR when I’m on the ground/see the runway i.e. is the clearance...Hi – Here’s the scenario: The flight starts night VFR, with broken ceiling at destination (class C airspace) and expected to improve according to the pre-flight abbreviated briefing. I'm IFR

  • something like "Well do you have an IFR flight plan or are you reporting IFR??" I had always used that phraseology because it seems the least wordy way to get the info across, which can be helpful when the freq is busy. What is the technically correct way to get an IFR clearance on an existing IFR flight plan? ...I once had a traffic controller give me a hard time about how I requested IFR clearance once in the air. I had previously filed an IFR flight plan, and took off from my untowered home airport

  • In the first part of this YouTube video, you can see an aircraft supposedly flying 4x faster than the surrounding aircraft, at the time the Malaysian 777 went missing. After replaying this on Flight Radar 24, KAL672 departs Kuala Lumpa a short while before MAS370. It then does a 180, flies back towards the airport, then appears to do another 180 and rockets across the ocean: Here are the playback links for 2014-03-07 16:55: KAL672 and MAS370. Essentially, my question is, what is this oddity that FR24 is showing? (to ward off conspiracy theorist nuts).

Data information