Drunk American Airlines Pilot Arrested Before Transatlantic Flight

London police arrested an American Airlines pilot twenty minutes before he was scheduled to fly 204 passengers from London to Chicago. 57-year-old Captain Joseph Crites was four-times over the legal alcohol limit and reeking of booze when he tried to enter his Boeing 777’s cockpit.

The 10.15am flight yesterday – AA87 – was delayed while a replacement pilot was found and the Boeing 777 eventually took off at 11.30am.

American Airlines said today: “An American Airlines pilot was arrested at Heathrow yesterday having failed a breathalyser test. Police had been called by airport staff working at the security control post.


Arrests of drunken pilots are “quite infrequent,” said a police spokesman who declined to be named, in line with police policy. “They are not everyday occurrences.”

Crites is out on bail until July 16.

American Airlines pilot arrested after failing breathalyzer test [CNN]
Pilot held in cockpit is ‘4 times drink limit’ [The Sun]
(Photo: NoiseCollusion)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Seiko says:

    I mean its not like the guys was too drunk. Only four times the legal limit I operate my lawnmower with that all the time. Heck I still have 8 fingers and 6 toes left.

    • SegamanXero says:

      @Seiko: Just don’t go over five times over the limit, that’s when you start losing limbs. I lost one of my arms and legs that way. Plus also lost the bionic replacements that I had gotten to replace them as well…

  2. SybilDisobedience says:

    Wow. So are we to presume the flight crew smelled the booze stank and blew the whistle? Good on ’em for not ignoring it and going on with the flight. (Not that I presume that’s what most flight crews would or wouldn’t do, mind you – I have no frame of reference here.)

    Any stats on how often pilots are caught flying or attempting to fly drunk?

    • HogwartsAlum says:


      I don’t know, but I would imagine the flight crew didn’t want to die in a fiery crash because of this nimrod any more than the passengers would.

      The article said it was “infrequent,” but it’s a good question. It would be interesting to see some stats on that.

    • SexCpotatoes says:

      @SybilDisobedience: They said it wasn’t an every day occurrence, so that means pilots fly $&*%-faced every other day. Good luck figuring out the schedule of when they are flying drunk and when they are flying sober. It’s like russian-roulette in the sky!

  3. KingPsyz says:

    *mental note, never fly American Airlines*

    • webreacher says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: I had this ”note” on my mind for a while…

    • korin43 says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: I don’t see why this would make you not want to fly with them. Obviously they noticed and didn’t let him fly.

    • snowburnt says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: how many airlines do you have mental notes on since reading consumerist?

      • alexcassidy says:

        @snowburnt: All of them?

      • supercereal says:

        @snowburnt: For me, at least,it’s zero. Consumerist stories represent far less than a fraction of a percent of all transactions, flights, or encounters. Forget the tens of millions of other flights out there with no hassle or trouble whatsoever…

      • KingPsyz says:

        Well since most involve inconveniences, none until this. But having a pilot near coma drunk and thinking he could fly across the Atlantic has now kept me off the Silver bird with the A’s on it forever.

      • EqualOpportunityCrasher says:

        @snowburnt: Just one, U.S. Airways. That one, however, sprang out of not just the Consumerist, but personal experience. Worst. Airline. Ever.

    • bball123h says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: Since the airlines don’t get to control what the pilots are doing before a flight, I’m actually going to give them credit for catching this guy. This is more a +1 than a -1 for me.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: You wish it were that easy! American Airlines isn’t the only one dealing with drunk pilots.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: Not sure I’m with you on this. I mean, out of all the thousands of pilots that AA employs, they can’t control what everyone does on their off hours. I’d bet lots of money that every other airline has problem pilots as well.

      What they can do is control their reaction. (A) it’s nice to see this wasn’t swept under the rug, and (B) the culture of the company is apparently such that it’s more important to report this kind of thing, than protect the image. That’s how it should be.

      Does this give me the warm-fuzzies for AA? No. As far as I can tell they did what they should, nothing more. But it doesn’t turn me off either.

    • Jason Schaeffer says:

      @PSN: kingpsyz: I know you’re trying to be funny, but in all seriousness this has absolutely nothing to do with American Airlines and absolutely everything to do with the specific pilot, who could just as easily have flown for any airline.

  4. Random_Tangent says:

    Arrests of drunken pilots are “quite infrequent,” said a police spokesman who declined to be named, “We usually just let them go.”

  5. silver-bolt says:

    Four times what legal limit? Each US state has a different limit, and I don’t believe there is an over-riding federal limit. Or was it the British legal limit?

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @silver-bolt: neither article says which limit – but he was in london at the time so it might have been 4 times the UK limit. or it might have been 4 times the FAA’s limit since it says that they are the ones who impose random drug and alcohol testing

    • tangent4 says:

      @silver-bolt: It was probably the FAA’s legal limit for airline pilots.

      • floraposte says:

        @tangent4: Or the BAA, given that this was in Britain. It looks like that limit is 20 mg per 100 ml? My eyes glazed over trying to understand the different BAC measurements, so I think that’d be .02% in US terms but I’m not sure. (The British limit for driving is 80 mg per 100 ml, for what it’s worth.)

        • yesteraeon says:

          @floraposte: You are correct. 0.02% really means 0.02 grams per 100 mL of blood, which is equal to 20 mg / 100mL.

        • 10felines says:

          who cares how much he drank or what the legal limit is….don’t drink and operate any vehicle! Especially one with hundreds of lives at stake. Forget that last comment; one life or a hundred lives, if it is your loved one dead numbers don’t matter. He should never be allowed to fly again. But we know that won’t happen. Poor man is sick and we shouldn’t hold it against him. Fix him and get him another job if you want to but don’t take the chance of letting him fly an airplane again.

      • Coles_Law says:

        @tangent4: My thoughts exactly. 4 times most states’ driving is 0.32%-he’d have trouble staying upright at that point.

    • Tolgak says:


      FAA’s limit is .04. Can’t fly within 8 hours of drinking (company policies are usually 12-24).

      Pilots tend to have a lot of things in common. Sadly, one of those is an infatuation with alcohol. I wouldn’t set foot on a flight line with most pilots I know for this very reason. There’s too much to worry about before we ever get close to an airplane.

  6. Trai_Dep says:

    …No word yet on whether the autopilot cleared the breathalizer test as well.

  7. chemmy says:

    A buddy of mine is an airline pilot. Drinking right up until flight time was a usual thing with him and his posse of pilots and flight attendants. I asked about the quitting time once and he said they were supposed to quit 8 hours before the scheduled flight “but it’s just a guideline and nobody checks them so who cares”

    He’s a 747 captain….

    • KingPsyz says:

      Hey could you do me a solid?

      Kick your friend square in the nuts as hard as you can next time you see him and tell him Sully would be disapointed in him.

    • carthis says:


      Please do. He’s making the rest of us look terrible.

    • mythago says:

      @chemmy: Your friend is going to make a plaintiffs’ attorney very, very rich someday.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @chemmy: I’m calling bullshit on your “story…” maybe once or twice, but more than that, he is BOUND to get caught. Also, even being slightly drunk makes it rather hard to navigate tight airspaces…

      A few other notes:

      -Despite what “he” claimed, it’s enforced and people do check on it – TSA looks out for it, as does any employee who cares for their company’s reputation

      -There’s no “posse” of flight attendants/co pilots – they rotate on a regular basis, and by now, at least one would have brought this to someone’s attention. All flight crew are mandatory reporters, and risk their job for not turning someone in for doing this

      -There isn’t a single airline that has a 747 crew base on the West Coast that once had one elsewhere…

      • FLConsumer says:

        @RedwoodFlyer: Thousands Standing Around are too busy confiscating water and frisking grannies to catch something that could actually pose a risk.

  8. weedpindle says:

    FAA is 8 hours after consuming alcohol and 0.04 . Some airlines have stricter requirements. This guy has trashed a 6 figure income and a retirement. Idiot.

  9. tmed says:

    Y’know, he would have sobered up in time to land. People make such a big deal out of these things.

  10. chapoec says:

    what is the pilot going to hit up in the sky? Clouds?

    • Megalomania says:

      @chapoec: The more relevant question is, what is this guy going to hit while landing? The ground, the terminal, other planes, ground personnel..

    • KingPsyz says:

      other planes, bad weather, turbulence… should I go on?

    • easy2panic says:

      @chapoec: The only reason we don’t let computers take over completely is because of take-off and landing, and sometimes human judgment is required. I would assume alcohol can impair judgment and slow down reaction times for take-off and landing.

      • RedwoodFlyer says:

        @easy2panic: Actually, takeoff/landing are handled much better by the computers! Pilots are mainly there for navigating the airspace and communicating with air traffic control. Also, pilots come in handy with situations like the Hudson river fiasco.

        On the other hand…pilots are also responsible for many accidents – such as the Colgan Air one. The computer was even telling him not to pull back, yet he did! An Airbus, for example, would basically have told him “screw you” and ignored his erroneous inputs….

    • bball123h says:

      @chapoec: I’m sure the folks who landed in the Hudson appreciated having a sober pilot on takeoff.

  11. P_Smith says:

    “Drunks on a plane”?

    I suppose if he were sober it would be “shakes on a plane”.

  12. snowburnt says:

    @supercereal: good for you, your skepticism of skepticism will get you far.

  13. tom2133 says:

    Wait. There is a legal limit for pilots? I would think a few tons of complicated machinery that needs to be flown with utmost precision at 600 MPH 30,000 feet in the air the legal limit would be close to 0.00 as possible?

    • Coles_Law says:

      @tom2133: The legal limit is usually set to something like 0.02 simply because it’s hard to accurately measure below that and medicines and other foods may raise someone’s BAC slightly above 0.00.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @tom2133: The legal rule for any airmen is 8 hours bottle to throttle!

  14. Nytmare says:

    @PSN: kingpsyz: they fired him too

  15. FuryOfFirestorm says:


    • b.k. says:

      @FuryOfFirestorm: That’s totally the sequel — Drunk Snakes On A Plane. The snakes feel bad about their life choices for an hour and a half and then make you sing bad karaoke before you can deplane.

  16. KingPsyz says:

    Was he sober when he flew INTO London?

  17. madog says:

    I think it’s pretty awful that the pilot wasn’t treated in the same regard as any other drunk passenger: beaten, raped, and stuffed into a holding cell for 36 hours.

  18. RogerTheAlien says:

    Was the security post staff employed by Heathrow or by AA. Either way, good on them for being vigilant in this case. But seriously, WTF?!?! I guess stereotypes about pilots being drunkards isn’t too far off, huh? I was kind of looking for a reason to fly AA less and less.

  19. edrebber says:

    All airplanes should have a Breathalyzer interlock device. Every member of the flight crew should have to pass a Breathalyzer test before the plane can take off.

  20. bigmac12 says:

    That would have been a great flight…just think of the acrobatics he probably would have done out over the Atlantic.

    • SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

      @bigmac12: Welcome to American Airlines flight AA87 from Heathrow to O’Hare. My name is and I’ll be your captain today. Our departure time is 10:15 this morning and we’re the fourth in line for take off. Please be advised that the copilot and I will be seeing what this baby can really do over the Atlantic so don’t be alarmed if we go into a sudden dive or a very hard roll, at which point I will ask you to remain seated with your seat trays up since we will be momentarily completely upside down. Have a good day and thanks for flying American Airlines. Cheers.

  21. turkeyspam says:

    I was all excited when I saw the header for this article. I have an uncle who is a raging alcoholic and is also a pilot for American Airlines. I was so hoping it was him…

  22. Aladdyn says:
  23. bananaboat says:

    AA…American Airlines…Alcoholics Anonymous. Is this irony or did the guy just not understand the big AA letters?

  24. RedwoodFlyer says:

    On the plus side, he already has an AA badge for his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings!

    Here are some highly relevant pictures:

  25. Meathamper says:

    “What doesh thish button do? Emergenshy? Shoudns like fun!”

  26. kyle4 says:

    When we were flying from Canada to Italy, had to take a short detour in Rome to Calabrea. The pilot in Rome was more than a little tispsy (this was in ’98). My mom complained because she could see. Not only did he still fly the plane, it was one hell of a bumpy ride. Maybe this is a sign that things have changed since then.

  27. varro says:

    American Airlines soon will debut the $10 “flight crew sobriety fee” “for your safety”.

  28. Suaveydavey says:

    Would you care for coffee, a soda or what the captain is having?

  29. Five says:

    “Good afternoon everyone. This is your pilot speaking. We have reached a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. Now hold my beer and watch this.”

  30. tworld says:

    I guess all those extra fees the Airlines charge buys booze for the pilots, while everyone else on the plane is munching peanuts like a bunch of captured chimps.

  31. jenjen says:

    The good news here is that a bad guy got caught and reported, and there was accountability to the flying public.

  32. Eli Bishop says:

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue…

  33. Anonymous says:

    I find this very unfortunate. As an AA pilot, it reflects poorly on the other 10,000 of us and the airline which already suffers a rotten reputation with the fly public and its own employees. Who knows what is going on in this guys life that he could have a BA of .16 at that time of the morning. Every pilot I know would tell a guy in this shape to stay at the hotel and call in sick. I would not let him get on the bus to the airport!
    Remember, when you get 10,000 people of any profession (doctors, attorneys, politicians) together, you will get a lot worse than someone with an alcohol problem on that list!