Cynthia Angel kicked off plane for asking if pilot had been drinking – fair or unfair?

Interesting situation described in this article where a few passengers thought they smelled alcohol on the captain’s breath. What would you do?

Well one woman reported it and the captain got tested. He had not been drinking so everything was fine. Except the woman got kicked off the plane.

“All I did was voice my concerns,” said Angel. “I wasn’t a threat to anyone and for them to remove me was wrong.”

I happen to agree with her. What this does is it sends a message to other passengers not to speak up. Yet if you read Influence by Robert Cialdini you know that we already have a tendency to trust authority too much. When I asked before what you would do, I honestly don’t think I’d do anything. I bet most people are like me. That could obviously lead to a real problem if people know something is wrong and don’t report it.

The other side is this:

“If you think someone is drunk, you owe it to yourself, your loved ones and other passengers to report it,” said Aimer, who is also a retired United Airlines captain. “However, in this case, because the captain had not been drinking, Delta made the right decision by asking her to leave the plane.”

Aimer explains that in situations like this, flights usually end up delayed or canceled because the captain will take himself off the flight.

“It’s an either you or me situation,” said Aimer. “She had to go because the captain has his crew and hundreds of other passengers to think about.”

Aimer adds that if he found himself in a similar situation, he’d do the same thing.

“The issue of pilots and drinking has become a very big deal, and accusations like that could end your career,” Aimer said.

I don’t understand how it’s a you or me situation. Why can’t the captain and the passenger who voiced a concern share a plane?How would her being on the plane affect the other passengers?

And how is the career thing relevant? Either he was drunk and his career is over or he wasn’t drunk and his career is fine, no? And if not, what are we saying, the captain wants revenge for this woman putting his career at risk?

By the way, the airline is claiming that she continued to complain about the pilot after he passed the breathalyzer. This makes even less sense to me – if she still thought the pilot was drunk wouldn’t she want to get off that plane?

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  1. Henry Francis says:


    But then again there are other people who like to create a situation and interrupt or inconvenience others because of their warped sense of humor. These are the morons who drive in the left lane of a freeway, yakking away on a cell phone, driving 20 or more miles under the limit and totally insensitive to the long line of cars trying to pass them and get home. These are the same people who pull fire alarms to get their kicks.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best,”Your right to swing your fist ends where the other person’s nose begins”. Again, this silly woman chose to play a very, very dangerous game and lost.

    In my world, this silly woman should be banished from ALL airlines and condemned to riding a Greyhound bus from now till the end of time.

  2. Ken says:

    I was in the Departure lounge and Malta airport. In comes a captian in all of his gear pulling a small offical bag on wheels. He sits and the bar and downs about 5 whiskies in a row. I am starting to get a little concerend as even if he is not my pilot he is someones I thought. I found a guard and explained, he had a word with the barman who comfirmed what i had said but on checking he was a sea captian going home from duty

    So you need to be carefull


  3. kerri says:

    I too fail to see how it beomes a “you or me” situation. The passenger thought the pilot had the smell of alcohol on his breath. She was right to advise the member of the flight crew of her suspicions.

    The pilot was tested, he was not impaired, that should be the end of it. Why should the good samaritan be penalized? Why does another retired Captain agree with what happened and explain it as “She had to go because the captain has his crew and hundreds of other passengers to think about”. What does this mean? The woman’s presence impairs the pilot from performing his duties? Are pilots that unprofessional? If he is upset about the questioning of his sobriety and its career implications, will he be any less upset if the questioning passenger is removed from the plane?

    Booting this passenger is not just unacceptable it is OUTRAGEOUS. What purpose does it serve except to discourage passengers from reporting a possibly impaired pilot?

  4. thomas nerchi says:


  5. Sharon says:

    I probably wouldn’t have said anything either. But, I feel sure the woman continued to cause problems on the aircraft, probably complaining to anyone who would listen, and basically not minding her own business. After she was proved wrong, she should have kept her mouth shut,but some people don’t like to be proved wrong. If she was at all concerned, she would have been glad to leave the plane. On another note, which is neither here nor there…I don’t believe vodka is detectible…from a respectable distance which I believe was the case. There is a fine line between so-called good samaritans and busy-bodies!

  6. mike says:

    I personally know of this woman and she is not a nutty person..

    I guarantee she was concerned and did the right thing by making sure the pilot wasn’t intoxicated… It surprises me that so many individuals wouldn’t do the same… Geez, I don’t want those people on my plane. This is truly an example of I’d rather be safe than sorry!

  7. Kerri says:

    In neither this article nor the one it links to was there any mention of Ms. Angel having created any kind of scene, commotion, or drama on board. Some of you are making it seem as if she ran up and down the aisles screaming ” the pilot’s drunk, we’re all going to die!”. That simply has no basis in fact. If she were making a scene and upsetting passengers, than yes she should be asked to leave. BUT there is no evidence that happened here. Furthermore, the former Captain who was interviewed did not say ” If she made a commotion i would have her removed.” He made it seem as if it were common protocol to remove a passenger who happened to question a pilot’s sobriety if the pilot proved not to be impaired. Regardless of that passenger’s behavior.

    That policy is not acceptable.

    There is a reason that we have whistleblower laws in other industries. The policy needs to be changed, or there needs to be a system where passengers can anonymously make such reports to airline personnel.

    Heaven help the next time something like this happens and the person who smells alcohol on their pilots breath is A) correct about the pilot having been drinking and b) on their way to a wedding or funeral and unwilling to risk being put off the flight if they are mistaken.

    I just don’t understand people who are willing to have themselves radiated and their genitals digitally exposed in the name of “airline safety” but think that its ok to penalize someone who speaks up when they sincerely believe their pilot might have been drinking. Isn’t the first priority safety? So much for ” see something, say something”.

  8. MzMoni says:

    It would never occur to me to ask a US airline pilot (or any other major carrier) to undergo an alcohol test. I’ve flown for many years and I’ve never been close enough to the cockpit crew to even question that. The airline industry has too much to lose with that kind of bad PR.

    For the most part of it I agree with what Sharon posted earlier.

  9. cynthia says:

    As for the issue with the pilot who was falsly accused of drinking; I am sorry you had to go through that degrading underminding authority that Angel put you through. As for the rest of us commenting on the situation, this is one of them things that you would have to be there to fully understand what exactually went down.

  10. Jane says:

    I would think that for the safety of everyone why not to have all the pilots to pass the breathalyzer before onboard the plane. That should take care of all the ongoing consequencies.

  11. Sharon says:

    If we’re going to have mandatory breathalyzer tests for pilots, then we would have to do the same for bus drivers, taxi drivers, train engineers, ferry operators, captains of ships, and the list goes on! Then, what follows are drug tests…the problem probably will be is it economically feasible, is it an invasion of privacy, and all the other objections we would hear.

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