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Please return to Gate D10 -- check your jokes with your baggage

Nancy Ahern

is a freelance writer and columnist in Arizona.

Nancy Ahern
July 19th, 2002

In early July, two America West airline pilots, scheduled to fly 124 passengers from Miami to Phoenix, were fired after being charged with operating an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol. The pilots, who had a measured blood alcohol level of 0.04, had actually begun to taxi the aircraft to the runway when they were recalled to the gate. A screener had noticed the smell of alcohol on their breath and reported it.

In mid-July, a woman boarded a Tucson-bound America West jetliner in San Francisco and jokingly asked "Have you checked your crew for sobriety?"

The woman was booted from the flight. America West "doesn't joke about safety."

That may be fine for America West, but a passenger certainly should be permitted to inquire -- even jokingly -- about what measures the airline has made to assure her safety. America West reported that its flight attendant thought the woman's remark was more an accusation than a joke.



If I am nervous about flying, inquire about my safety, and a flight attendant decides he doesn't like how I go about inquiring, I may find myself being escorted off the flight by security agents. While America West certainly has some latitude concerning who gets to fly with them, this sort of hypersensitivity is, at best, boorish. The joking woman was not threatening. She was not herself drunk. She was not disorderly. She was not harassing. She was "accusatory" and, presumably, jocular.

This is not a time for airlines to adopt idiotic policies. The airline industry has been in an economic slump for quite some time -- a downward slope that was sharply accelerated following the September 11 attacks. Among them, America West is the only carrier so far that has received government financial assistance; they are all still struggling as they shut down routes, combine flights, bump passengers, and face increasing costs due to added security measures. The very last thing they need to do is overreact to a situation that does not pose a security threat. The very last thing they need to do is present a face of jack-booted thuggery. Since the drunken pilot incident alone, America West stock has shown a steady loss, and their earnings loss has been abysmal. The company has a reputation for poor management, and the carrier itself a reputation for shoddy customer service.

The message they are sending with this latest news is that they're not there to serve you. They're only too happy to subsist off of government handouts and say "Eff you!" to the people who pay the high ticket prices for the privilege of cramming into uncomfortable seats.

Back to the drunken pilots. The blood-alcohol level measured in the two pilots is more than twice the legal limit for airline pilots. Furthermore, one of the pilots has a history of alcohol-related misdemeanors. Arizona police records show that Thomas Porter Cloyd, 44, has been arrested twice. One time, two years ago, Cloyd was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct after he allegedly drunkenly harassed his neighbor by shouted obscenities, pounding on her door and stomped on his floor above her apartment. He had also been arrested in 1998 for misdemeanor domestic assault. Cloyd admitted he had been drunk and had spit on his then-wife and shoved her into a refrigerator.

Admittedly, it's not America West's responsibility to ensure their pilots lead peaceful, stellar lives, so long as they follow Federal Aviation Administration policy, which requires pilots to report if they have been charged with certain alcohol-related offenses, such as driving under the influence. Still, given the "in your face" attitude of America West's flight attendants, and the knowledge that at least one of their pilots has a history of being a mean drunk, I'm no longer entirely comfortable choosing America West as a carrier.

I travel routinely as part of my business. I often get to select which airline I prefer. After hearing about America West's intransigence, I'm likely to schedule my next flight on Delta or some other airline. Which reminds me of something a friend of mine told me:

Two America West pilots, an Englishman, a rabbi, a priest, a duck, 4 lawyers, 5 politicians, a blonde, and a Chihuahua walk into a bar, and the bartender says: "What is this? Some kind of joke?!"

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"...The message they are sending with this latest news is that they're not there to serve you. They're only too happy to subsist off of government handouts and say "Eff you!" ..."

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