Hi all, Recently I've done a flight and I'm still bothering myself if I have done the right thing and would like to hear your thoughts, own experience and maybe advice if this would happen to me a second time. First a short intro: I am a first officer with under 1000hrs on the 737, flying in Europe for a charter airliner. Some of you might call me 'inexperienced'.
On this early morning flight (takeoff at 6 am.), crew joined together in crewroom, all was normal, weather was looking great for a 3+ hr flight to a nice holiday destination somewhere with seaview... I chose to be PF on the outbound flight so when we arrived at the aircraft, I did the cockpit preperation and the captain went outside to do the walkaround. When he returned we did the preflight checks, and I briefed the departure. After the briefing, waiting while the passengers were boarding, the captain fell into a snoring sleep. I was a bit surprised by this, but I didn't bother too much untill I noticed his breath smelling of alcohol. My first thought was: 'this is not happening to me'. Thereafter I was in a lot of doubt what to do. We only had 10 minutes left before our pushback time so I did not have much time to think about it. He woke up when the handling agent came to pick up the last paperwork. And off we went... During taxi out and takeoff, everything was normal, as I was fit for the flight and enjoying the sunrise while taking the plane in the air. When airborne however, it became very obvious that this guy was all but 'in the loop'. He missed a lot of radiocalls, made erratic calls like 'airlinexxx approach FL80', while we were in fact already passing FL120, cleared to FL260, and the previous clearance had been to FL80... After breakfast he fell vast asleep again. I had to shout and prod at him 5 times to wake him up so I could go to the toilet. I then had a talk with the senior cabin if she had noticed anything, she admitted to have smelled alcohol in the crewroom, but did not pay any major attention to it as she didn't know this captain and was not sure if it was normal for him or not (it wasn't). He slept for the whole outbound flight and woke up just 10 min. prior to descent. Landing was uneventfull. On the ground we had a small talk about my feelings about the previous flight and he admitted to have been to a 'small' party and did not sleep at all (!) the night before the flight. So that was why he had to catch up with sleep. I asked if he felt fit enough to be PF on the way back and he answered something like 'yes ofcourse, no problem'. As he appeared to be fitter after the 3+ hrs of sleep during the flight, I decided just to do the return flight as well, and this leg was quite uneventfull except for some minor mistakes but those could also have been made among a completely fit crew. However he did sleep again for about half of the return flight. During the whole episode the senior cabin crew was very supportive to me and checked with us about every 20 minutes (capt being asleep), just to make sure that I was still alive and kicking, which I very much appreciated... After the flight I again initiated a small talk with the captain about how I felt about the situation. He admitted to have been unfit to fly and promised that he would report sick if it would happen again (on which I insisted).We shook hands and that was about it...
Looking back to it, I am thinking that I might have done a better job to speak up immediately after that early morning departure briefing when I smelled his breath. If it would happen to me a next time, I think I will: 1. Seek someone that shares my opinion, and ask the opinion of the senior cabin crew. 2. Speak up to the capt. immediately about my uncomfort. 3. If I am sure that the other crewmember is not fit to fly, I would ask him to call in sick, or otherwise I will do it myself. I want to avoid the airplane from departing with an, in essence, incapacitated crewmember.
It was also a lesson for this cabin crew member, I think next time she will speak up about something like this. Also cabin crew often come closer to a pilot during 'the greeting ceremony' (kisses), so they will be the most likely persons to notice this.
I share the story to first of all relief my thoughts, second; hear your thoughts/advice and third it might be a learning experience for my fellow 'inexperienced' f/o's, and maybe cabin crew as well.
A very difficult situation to be in, especially when the full effect didn't become clear until the flight was underway.
In that situation, I hope I would have said (in as friendly a manner as possible) "you stink of booze, are you sure you're fit to fly?", followed (regardless of the answer) by "lets call in sick, just to be on the safe side". Easier said than done.
I find it useful to ask myself the question "what's the WORST that can happen" (if I take a particular course of action). In this type of case, doing nothing might mean death (I did say the worst that can happen) whereas speaking up and refusing to fly might mean loss of your job. It's easy to see the better option.
It gets easier to say "no" as you get older/more experienced..... and that wasn't in any way meant to be a patronising comment......I'm just speaking from experience of the old age bit!
LH-OAB, thanks for your reply. I fully agree with you. I don't want to think of what could have happened if anything abnormal happened on this flight. Aircrafts can be perfectly flown single crew, but not when you've got shit in your fan... Next time I hope to do it like you describe. But I think that would be very difficult if you're the only one that's having an uncomfortable feeling.. In the CRM courses it's very clear most of the time, and easy to judge and decide sitting in a classroom, but during the event my CRM instructors were just chasing each other trough my head, how to solve it!
I think under the circumstances you handled the situation very well and you did the right thing by debriefing the situation at the end of each sector. I am sure that you and the senior CC have learned from the situation. Don\'t fret over the \'did I do the right thing scenario\', I don\'t think you will allow yourself to be sucked in to that one again, and with any luck you may have given a wake up call to a Captain that his lively hood and pension are on the line.
Thanks for your experience TheCitterneFlyer, and the others for your replies.
@ monalot I'm not a journalist. But I take your remark as a compliment as English is not my native language I created this account yesterday to make this post as anonymously as I can.
@KBPsen do you think this subject is inappropriate to discuss in this forum?
I hope you are not a journalist, but I'll say it any way. It might help others. It happened many years ago, and I still think about it and I know I should have acted differently. It was a 0700 departure. When the captain and I entered in the cockpit I noticed that he had been drinking. I didn't say anything to him, but I should have. What if something happened. Luckylly nothing happened, but it could have. Now I think that I should have talked to him right there and ask him to call in sick, if not I will do it for him. And if he denied it I would call the authorities to have him tested for alcohol. Now, I think that's the right thing to do.
Some years ago while operating as flight mech I noticed that the captain smelled of alcohol and appeared slightly detached - his F/O and F/E did not seem to be concerned so I felt that I should keep quiet but was not happy with the situation. It was a long haul 747 passenger flight and we completed the flight without any problems as far as I could see.Shortly after this I was departing the same flight when our customers duty operations officer prevented the same captain from boarding and that was the last I saw of him.Speaking to some of the cabin crew it was common knowledge that he seemed to have a problem.I have always felt that I should have spoken out but with the attitude of the rest of the crew I think it would have fallen on deaf ears.