Grounded Angel: Delta Allegedly Tosses Woman Off Flight After She Raised a Concern Over Pilot’s Sobriety

Cynthia Angel, 51, has a rather startling allegation against Delta Airlines. After she smelled what she (and she claims other passengers) thought was alcohol on the breath of a pilot, she mentioned it to a flight attendant. She says she was then thrown off the flight back to her home in Southern California.

Angel says she was flying home from Atlanta when she and other passengers asked the pilot about a delay. She says that another passenger raised the concern that the pilot smelled of alcohol. Once on board, she reported it to the flight attendant on Delta Airlines Flight 2355. It turned out that she was speaking to the pilot.
After reporting the concern to the flight attendant, she was asked to go into the cockpit where she was told that the pilot had not been drinking. She said that she was satisfied with the explanation and went back to her seat.

Twenty minutes later, she said that a Delta manager and a colleague came on to the flight and asked her to gather her things and accompany them off the plane. She was taken to an office and told again that the pilot had tested negatively for alcohol. Now here is the kicker: “They told me they take these accusations very seriously and that the captain and his crew did not want me on his flight.”

She was given meal and hotel vouchers and told to come back the next day to take another flight to Los Angeles.

If this account is accurate, it is an astonishing policy that a pilot can toss a passenger who simply raised a concern about his sobriety. Presumably, Delta wants passengers to raise such concerns. However, this approach would create a disincentive for any passenger to raise such a concern and risk being grounded for a full day.

Source: NBC

17 thoughts on “Grounded Angel: Delta Allegedly Tosses Woman Off Flight After She Raised a Concern Over Pilot’s Sobriety”

  1. Hello Buddha is Laughing,

    What fear? I don’t have a lot of fear in my life except for my concern to where the United States is headed financially. I know what I don’t like and stated as much. You seem to have a problem with that. Ignorance is ignorance. If calling it as I see makes me a misanthrope in your eyes. . . so be it.

    The issue here was about the flight crew and the passenger who casually accused the Captain of drinking alcohol. Interesting how you chose to just criticize me instead of make a comment about the topic at hand. Isn’t that a little arrogant and tangential of you? Are you always so easily side-tracked into your problems with other people’s personalities? Do you have a problem addressing the issue at hand? Seems a little Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Doesn’t sound very Buddhist of you. At least I’m not the opposite of who I claim to be.

    You also appear to be just another person who likes to make assumptions. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about. I am well versed in airplanes and airlines and airports with all my travels, my business and my background.

    I happen to have the following type ratings: SA-227, B-707, B-727, B737, A-320, B757/767, B-777. I have also earned my ATP license which I believe only 2% of all pilots have, but you probably don’t know what any of that means.

    It appears you just like to spout off like you are some know it all.
    I am also a military vet with 703 combat hours. I know quite a bit about flying and have seen a lot of in my 40 years on this planet.

    I know fools when I encounter them in the airline industry. I have grown weary of the dumbing down of people in America, the poor school systems and the rantings of people who don’t know anything about what they have such strong opinions. It is easy to find fault with me because I have grown weary of the ignorant comments from people who obviously don’t know what they are talking about, as you are now doing. I try not to make strong declarations on issues I know nothing about.

    There are few industries out there that have as high of caliber people as in the pilot ranks. Their standard of excellence is impressive. Their safety record is impeccable. When given the facts, I understand the rules that govern the industry and know what it means to be the pilot-in-command. When a pilot violates the rules, the consequences can be severe, and career ending, which they should be. Pilots have a profession where they must exercise excellent judgment because not doing so can have severe consequences. . . unlike the casual passenger who doesn’t put much thought into what they say or do.

    When one pilot drinks alcohol it makes national news because it is that rare. Now when a pilot is even accused of drinking alcohol it makes national news.

  2. Condescend much, Lin? Or does the fear get in the way of all that condescension from time to time? Ever thought of learning to fly or charting a private flight so you don’t have to deal with the rabble? No?

    Didn’t think so.

    misanthrope \ˈmi-sən-ˌthrōp\, n.,

    : a person who hates or distrusts humankind

  3. I find it amusing how righteous ignorant people can be. Nate, for example, seems to have some issues with accepting what is really going on in our world today. I’m surprised you didn’t throw the word “Nazi” around a few times in your self-centered post. Unfortunately, the world has a lot more whackos in it these days and I’d much rather have increased security than end up on a flight with a whacko who wants to hijack the plane or threaten crew members.
    I really liked Herbert’s post and the pilot, John Van Voorhees. I agree that a passenger isn’t going to be the one who determines if a pilot is drunk. There are so many other, more “educated” and aware personnel who actually know what to look for than the casual passenger who usually has some level of fear flying.
    Instead of wondering how the pilot is doing, I have spent more time thinking about how many passengers are on something. The other passengers are the ones I am more concerned about. I travel quite a bit and see so many stupid passengers with their ridiculous ill-timed comments. It almost seems like when people check in their luggage they check out of their brains.
    I am glad that there are consequences for some of these idiots who think they can say or do anything at an airport which might inadvertently put the rest of the flying public at risk. If I were a pilot accused of drinking by some passenger who wouldn’t let up, I wouldn’t want her on my flight. Hell, as a passenger, I wouldn’t want such a trouble-maker on my flight. Passengers say so many stupid, ignorant things and I am glad they have consequences.
    I agree that a passenger isn’t going to be the one who figures out if a pilot has made the career ending move of imbibing in alcohol. Americans are so self-centered thinking they are the end all, be all and rarely do I find a group of Americans thinking about the rights of a group rather than their individual desires. I wish more of the troublemakers and alcoholic passengers were kicked off flights. Would make my traveling experience that much better. I say get rid of the trailer trash mentality that seems to have taken over the traveling public in America. Let them take the bus or train.

  4. Nate K:

    “In particular, the pilot’s high-handed actions don’t seem to square well with the airline’s legal obligations as a common carrier.”


    At common law, the duty imposed upon the common carrier required the pilot to exercise the utmost care and diligence for the safe carriage of his passengers. It did not require him or her to be polite, nice,or even rational* in his decision of who to fly. of course, there were some categorical limitations, for example refusing to permit the pilot from ejecting a person based on race or gender. The California Code does require a reasonable degree of civility and you may have an argument if Ms. Angel’s flight originated there which it likely did given the location of her home. (Calif. Civ. Code § 2103.)

  5. The FAA regulation would allow the pilot to eject anyone for any reason or no reason at all. But there are other controlling legal authorities. In particular, the pilot’s high-handed actions don’t seem to square well with the airline’s legal obligations as a common carrier.

  6. John is quite corect in his interpretation of FAA regulations:

    14 C.F.R §91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

    (a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

  7. The airport really seems to be the epicenter of a New Authoritarianism which is spreading outwards from there.

    At the airport, a joke is not a joke. It’s a felony.

    At the airport, being a jerk to the service staff isn’t merely rude. It’s a felony.

    At the airport, insisting on your Fourth Amendment rights is … you guessed it: a felony.

    And these authoritarian memes, incubated and legitimized at the airport, are spreading. It’s becoming “normal” to be searched on the train, on the bus, on the subway (and euphemistically calling it “screening” doesn’t make it any less of a search). It’s becoming “normal” to be arrested for uttering a sarcastic “yeah, I’m a terrorist.”

    We’re not even becoming a proper German-style police state. We’re becoming an absurdist Keystone Kops state.

  8. … and yet what will stick in potential passengers’ minds is, Delta punishes those who suspect their pilot is drunk.

  9. “If this account is accurate, it is an astonishing policy that a pilot can toss a passenger who simply raised a concern about his sobriety.” Jonathan Turley.

    As an airline pilot for 23 years, my own experience has been that this woman’s account is both factually suspicious, and far too common.

    People say to the pilot, “Have you been drinking?” either out of nervous fear, or out of contempt for the airline travel experience in general and their feelings of powerlessness.

    If someone truly had a concern about their pilot being inebriated, would the chance of a delay really deter them from acting? “OK, this guy is slurring his speech and reeks of booze, but I’d rather take my chances with him and get home on time.”

    The sad interpretation of this fiction, that this reported action by the airline would deter passengers from raising legitimate concerns, is nonsense.

    I’ve lost count of how many times some passenger has come on board and made some crack about the pilot drinking. Usually, the pilot will get a witness to observe and will say, “Do you really have a legitimate concern? If so, then there are protocols that must be followed. You are making a serious accusation here, and we don’t take them lightly.” In every case I’ve personally witnessed, the passenger backs off and goes on their way. Perhaps the Captain in this incident had just had enough.

    It’s not difficult to see a situation where a passenger makes a frivolous, not-well-thought-out comment, and then when there are consequences to face they suddenly start acting like they are being punished for their personal, valiant efforts to ensure the safety of the traveling public.

    How quickly people transform from smart-aleck to courageous martyr of air safety, especially when there’s media attention involved.

  10. “Hello, and welcome aboard,” says the pilot. Passenger: “Thanks. Are you drunk? Heh heh.”

    A professional greeting is responded to with an accusation of a felony. Nice. What many don’t realize is that this happens all the time. People are often nervous about flying. They try to be funny. This is not funny. It’s a serious accusation, and must be treated as such. The airline does, indeed, perform sobriety checks in these cases. They have to. Liability is an issue.

    It also causes delays and increased costs for everyone. In the case of the passenger discussed here, her accusation was wrong. Demonstrably wrong, according to the field sobriety test. (And yes, airlines are equipped to do this. Random drug and alcohol testing rules have been in place for a long time.)

    In this case, Delta did not make the decision to remove her from the flight. The airline was willing to absorb the delay and associated costs. The Captain, after falsely being accused of a crime, made the decision, which he is empowered by Federal Aviation Regulations to make. Right or wrong, the woman made a career-threatening charge against him. And a false one at that. She should have been more deliberative about the seriousness and accuracy of her charge.

    Let’s think about this for a minute. The fact is that airline pilots are human beings and are as susceptible to diseases like alcoholism as anyone else is. They are neither more, nor less immune. However, they are much more susceptible to scrutiny of their behavior than the average human being. They are randomly tested under Federal programs, and other performance indicators which can identify health problems are monitored extensively by airlines. Furthermore, there are other professionals in the picture here. The one or more pilots flying in the same cockpit, who have been in a position to observe much of each other’s activities during the trip, as well as the other flight attendants. There are station managers, gate agents, and security personnel with whom the pilot must interact with. None of these people have any motivation to allow any impaired crewmember to attempt to perform their duties. In fact, they have plenty of motivations to prevent it.

    The fact that, in very rare circumstances, a pilot has been identified as being impaired is more of a testimony of the progression of the disease and the ability to hide it than it is to the effectiveness of programs to prevent it. It is for this reason that pilots have one of the most effective identification and treatment programs in the country available to them, with the full faith and support of the airlines and the pilots union behind them. This gets fellow pilots, coworkers, friends and family members on board to get help to those who need it before it becomes an issue on the line.

    So if you are a passenger with no previous interaction with an airline crewmember, who has not been trained to recognize symptoms of impairment, the chances that YOU will be the one to identify a problem here is seriously unlikely, nor is the problem even remotely so prevalent that a passenger would be likely to find it necessary to become involved. Is the safety of the traveling public so threatened by this that we need so-called “Angels” like this passenger to keep us all safe from harm? What’s really missing from the emergence of this “scandal” is that the woman’s accusation was, quite predictably,WRONG.

    But there is nothing to stop you from making a criminal accusation against an airline pilot, really, except the threat of
    a minor inconvenience and delay. So go right ahead. Just don’t expect pilots to be thrilled and don’t be surprised if he or she reacts negatively when you are proven wrong.

  11. So all airlines suck really badly & Delta worst of all?

    So how is that airline deregulation working out for us? High corp instability, poor maintenance, low wages (wanna worry about drunk pilots how about poorly paid ones?), crappy conditions, Lower standards for pilot experience/training, sever overbooking. And what have we gotten in return? Well 3 of 4 people on the flight have tickets that only cost a couple hundred bucks.

    Thanks St. Ronnie

  12. Delta is the absolute worst of the “legacy” carriers. Unlike some of the others such as United, they have no tradition of customer service, however badly damaged by time, on which to draw. Their Atlanta folks are particularly awful.

  13. It’s gone viral now … fewer persons will be flying Delta … nobody will make an issue of it … no one will mount a campaign … business will simply drop off a bit …

  14. PIC (Pilot in Command)
    His decisions supersede anyone’s, including the airlines themselves. If he thinks something isn’t right he can hold the flight until he is satisfied it is safe.

    The downside is that the pilot is responsible for EVERYTHING..PERIOD!

    So if this woman was put off the flight it was the pilot’s decision, and no one else’s.

    BTW The restrictions for pilots alcohol levels are also a lot stricter than for driving.

  15. The original story is garbled about who was who but reading it a couple of time one gets the impression that that the passenger talked to the head flight attendant about a pilot who was also the Captain of the the flight. She wasn’t reporting a pilot to that pilot. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any reason whatsoever given by the airline to remove the passenger. No allegation that she was unruly, loud, agitated, ill mannered or causing a disturbance.

    There is a statement that if allegations are made and a pilot is removed or excuses himself from the flight due to the allegation there is a delay so in this case ‘it was her or me’.

    Sounds to me like Delta was out of line and was possibly more concerned with not having an expensive delay than actually checking out the passenger’s concern.

    The original writer didn’t do a very good job of explaining the situation though and who the passenger was talking to was not clear initially.

  16. You say its like a problem….come on no Delta Pilot has ever been convicted of drunk Flying…Now Northwest Airlines can not claim this…I think 5 in one year….but hey whose counting…

    This is kinda funny, if the person was speaking to the Pilot aka Flight Attendant and she did not smell alcohol on him, would not the safety of the other passengers be in question? She could cause great concern and create a flight risk for any bump…I am not sure I disagree with what they did at this time.

    Something most are not aware of is, the planes can basically be flown by the Air Defense out of either Atlanta or Colorado. Hence, you don’t need a pilot to fly em’ they do less and less….Just there in case something goes amiss. Do you really think a pilot can see the tarmac to begin with?

    I am more concerned about those dead puppies (7 of them) that landed at O’Hare than the women’s indignity…..

  17. First, I find it hard to believe they actually tested the pilot in that short a time. Do they keep breathalyzers at the gate? But let’s pretend Delta is actually concerned about passenger safety and did test.

    Why toss the passenger for raising a concern? Its a warning shot; pay your fare, shut up and sit down because if you question us we can make your trip hell. Who the hell are you to be concerned about safety?

Comments are closed.