The Drunken Aeroflot Pilot


A friend told us about this amusing/frightening story broadcast yesterday on Canada’s CBC radio show “As It Happens,” relating an incident of a clearly intoxicated Russian pilot being confronted by passengers on a transatlantic Aeroflot flight meant to leave from Moscow (there’s also a piece over at MT).  The illuminating part of the story?  How the passengers are scolded by the airline for making such a big deal out of the situation.  Mark this one down for low moments in Russian customer service…

From the CBC:

Dateline – Moscow….

Clause number one of any Airline Passengers bill of rights, you might think, would be .. … nyet to drunk pilots.

But it appears no such clause exists in Moscow.

According to details revealed this week, passengers on board a recent New York-bound Aeroflot flight were somewhat startled by the intercom greeting from Captain Alexander Cheplevsky.

His “Welcome aboard,” spoken in Russian, was barely intelligible. When he switched to English, the slurring was worse. In fact, passengers told The Moscow Times they couldn’t tell, really, what language their pilot was speaking. If any.

Someone called Aeroflot head office to complain. At first,passengers were told to “stop making trouble.” Then, airline staffboarded the plane to try to calm them down. According to eyewitnesses,one offered this reassuring reassurance: “It’s not such a big deal ifthe pilot is drunk. The plane practically flies itself.”

For half an hour, Captain Cheplevsky refused the passengers’ demandsthat he leave the cockpit and show himself. When the good captain didemerge, his eyes were bloodshot and his stance more than a touchwobbly. Once he realized he wasn’t convincing anyone he was sober, thecaptain offered a compromise: “I’ll sit quietly in a corner,” hereportedly said. “We have three more pilots. I won’t even touch thecontrols, I promise.”

In the end, passengers succeeded in getting all the pilots replaced.The plane was three hours late, but while they were waiting thepassengers kept themselves busy signing a declaration that the pilotwas inebriated.

An Aeroflot spokeswoman said later that tests revealed no trace ofalcohol in the pilot’s blood. She said the passengers suffered from”mass psychosis.”

But perhaps there’s a more comforting reason for what the passengersobserved. According to a company statement issued even later, it mighthave been that Captain Cheplevsky had suffered a stroke just before theflight. Now, I wonder what a Passenger Bill of Rights would say aboutTHAT.