There's a lot of discussion about whether this question is appropriate or not:

What to do if the captain smells like alcohol?

I personally think it's more a question for a forum instead of a Q&A site. The question could be interpreted in 2 ways:

  1. What do the regulations say? In that case the only possible answer is a quote or link to the text in the regulations, which is not really useful (except when you're too lazy to look it up)
  2. What should the copilot do in this case? That will lead to endless arguments about culture, psychology, etc.

Any thoughts?


I think that the original question could have been improved, but contrary to a number of comments on the question and here I think that the psychological side of subject is very appropriate for an aviation site.

How should I as a copilot prior to a commercial flight address my concerns that my captain is unfit to fly?

You can take the legalistic approach, but the part that people struggle with is how to address the captain in such a case. There are no black and white rules there, but I am sure there are people here that have valuable advise about things you should do and not do under these circumstances.

Lack of proper communication between crew members is a major cause of incidents in aviation, and it is known that in many cases the psychological and ethical issues around addressing someone with higher authority are the root cause there. This question shows that these situations are not limited to the flight deck, but also occurs outside of the pointy end of the aircraft.

For comparison, on academia.stackexchange.com similar ethical questions arise every now and then and the answers provided there seem to be quite helpful. Two examples:


I'm the OP of that question.

I've tried to reword the question to focus on the legal/regulatory requirements. I wouldn't know where to find the regulations, and searching Google doesn't yield anything of relevance.

I can see how the question could've been interpreted otherwise; sorry about that!

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    $\begingroup$ There's no need to apologize. Since this a brand new StackExchange site, questions like yours help to define the rules for the site. $\endgroup$ – Philippe Leybaert Dec 18 '13 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ That covers my concern so I have removed my downvote. "What are the regulations..." can have a definitive answer. "What should I do..." is too subjective, in my opinion. And I agree, "controversial" questions help us shape the community. Thanks @danny $\endgroup$ – Joe Dec 18 '13 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ I think the challenge here is that the regulations essentially say nothing about what others (in this case, the first officer) should do. The regs are pretty cut and dried: you cannot exercise the privileges of a certificate if you exceed the minimums for time, BAC, or if you're still suffering the effects (which is a big grey area, imo). I don't know where the regulations specify another pilot's responsibility for others' adherence to the regs. $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 18 '13 at 23:29

If there were regulations for this scenario, I do not believe it would be off-topic to ask what they were. However, The Rules assume players abide by The Rules. What to do if a pilot is drunk? According to the regulations, that scenario simply doesn't happen; they state the pilot is not drunk in the first place. Once you accept rules may be broken, all bets are off.

As a result, I think this question is mainly interpreted as: what should you do on moral or pragmatic grounds? That has little to do with aviation and would be mostly opinion-based. If you exclude those answers by appending 'what do the regulations say', I don't think the question allows for a good answer at all anymore.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree completely. If the question was "what is a typical airline policy for the reporting of pilots under the influence", then we'd have some leeway. $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 18 '13 at 23:31

I agree that this question as currently written isn't right for this site. For one the answer is going to vary based on the situation. e.g. If I'm going flying as a passenger with a buddy and I smell alcohol on his breath, vs. flying as a passenger in a small commercial plane, vs. boarding an airliner. What I might do in the first circumstance isn't appropriate for the last.

I also agree that a question about the legal requirements in this case would be better. "What should I do when xxxx" is very subjective.


I think the question ought to be rewritten along the lines of:

what is a typical airline policy for reporting pilots or crew who appear to be under the influence?

This avoids the problem where this situation isn't covered by regulations (the alcohol part is, but the reporting is not), while leaving room for answers by experts.

This was certainly a hot topic of discussion during the CRM / Airline Operations courses I took back in school, and it's a huge issue for airlines, crew, and unions. It seems appropriate here, in my opinion.


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