World's Dumbest Pilots
Kroener / vario images
Most pilots are pros, but even
experienced captains can slip up.
It’s bad enough when airline
passengers get into a scuffle. But the pilots? That’s what happened in 2009,
when two Air India pilots came to blows with their fellow crew members en route
from Delhi. According to the Times of India, the argument started before
takeoff and escalated as the flight continued, even spilling into the cabin—in
full view of the passengers.
The flight landed safely, and the
pilots were soon named in newspapers around the world. Why do we love hearing
stories about pilots acting badly?
“The traveling public likes to
think of its pilots as somewhat superhuman,” says Patrick Smith, “which has
never been fair to pilots as people.” A flyboy himself, Smith has
written Salon’s “Ask the Pilot” column since 2002. He also hosts the highly
informative website of the same name.
“Like any professionals, we are liable to make mistakes. Fortunately the vast
majority of these mistakes, however inevitable, are minor.”
Also fortunately, these blunders
are exceedingly rare. But when they do happen, it’s only natural that they
attract attention. And when they don’t result in actual injury, we can safely
Just ask Pinnacle Airlines pilot
Jeffrey Paul Bradford, who was literally caught with his pants down during a
layover in Harrisburg, PA. In May 2008, Bradford and a stewardess enjoyed
dinner and drinks at a local diner, then decided on a romp in the nearby woods.
It didn’t end well. Wearing nothing but flip-flops and his wristwatch, Bradford
was picked up for disorderly conduct, among other things.
But there’s no dumber pilot than
the one who reports for work intoxicated. In November 2009, United Airlines
pilot Erwin Washington was seen “acting strangely” while preparing to take
Flight 949 from Heathrow to Chicago. After crew members alerted the tower, cops
prevented the takeoff. Washington failed a breath test and was subsequently
fined and given a 10-month suspended sentence.
Still, similar incidents are few
and far between, and of course we also have hero pilots, like Captain Chesley
“Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the
Hudson River after his engines failed.
The bottom line? “We’re living
through the safest ever stretch in aviation history,” says Smith. Consider the
numbers. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, American airspace
hosted more than 22 million commercial flights in 2009—that’s 60,000 each
day—with more than 135,000 pilots at the stick. So while there may be pilots
behaving badly, they’re in the minority.