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‘Sorry, We’re Too Drunk to Operate This Flight’

What does an airline do when it’s forced to cancel a flight because four of its five crewmembers show up to work drunk? If you’re Latvia-based airBaltic, you issue a press release announcing to the world that, well, four of your workers showed up to work too drunk to fly. And, of course, you reiterate ad nauseum your airline’s unwavering commitment to safety, safety, safety.

I’m a big fan of transparency and accountability. And no one wants to fly with a crew that’s capable of giving anything less than its A-game. But there’s also such a thing as TMI (too much information). In much the same way that self-proclaimed modesty can read as boastful, confession can seem like self-promotion. Add to that the suspicion that the facts are being divulged only selectively and you’re left in the murk.

First, consider airBaltic’s version of events. From its news release:

The Latvian airline airBaltic regrets to inform that its flight BT7843 from Oslo, Norway, to Chania on the Greek Island of Crete was delayed by 4:45 hours due to its crew removed from operating the flight. According to the currently available information, four out of five crew are under initial suspicion for alcohol abuse, and they are now undergoing a careful medical examination to determine the actual blood alcohol levels.

Safety is our top priority and airBaltic is in process of careful investigation of this situation. airBaltic has several layers of control mechanism to ensure the safety of all airBaltic-operated flights. Procedures are in place to ensure potential mistakes of human factor are addressed. AirBaltic has temporarily suspended the involved four crew until the investigation is completed.

So, according to airBaltic, the airline’s “control mechanism” successfully detected that its crewmembers were too booze-woozy to operate the aircraft, and the airline cancelled the flight. Reassuring, right?

But wait. According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, the real story casts a less complimentary light on airBaltic and its internal policies and procedures. Reportedly, airport police were tipped off by airBaltic passengers, who suspected that the crew was less than sober. The police conducted sobriety tests and found that four of the five crew, including both pilots, had blood-alcohol levels exceeding 0.2 percent. For context, in the U.S., a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is considered legally drunk.

In other words, credit for outing the drunks goes to flight BT7843’s vigilant passengers, not to airBaltic.

The story—the real story, not airBaltic’s version—has a real-world moral for travelers: If you see something, say something.

Oh, and news releases that trumpet an airline’s singular focus on safety? Consider the source.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever suspected a pilot or flight attendant of being tipsy?

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