Their job is one of the most important in public transportation, but pilots are human like the rest of us -- and prone to making some pretty stupid decisions both in-flight and off-duty.
From the two Northwest pilots who overshot their destination by more than 150 miles after getting distracted by their laptops to the Air India pilots who took a cockpit brawl with the crew into the cabin for all the passengers to hear, read on for some of the most appalling incidents of pilots behaving badly.
1. Air Tran Pilot Arrested after TSA altercation
Security screening can be frustrating, even for seasoned pilots. The arrest of AirTran captain Michael Wayne Karnath, which was put into motion by the TSA, apparently came on the heels of a "clash of personalities" (according to the airport's executive director) that the pilot had with a screener at a security checkpoint. The female screener at Newport News/Willamsburg International Airport in Virginia reportedly accused Karnath of squeezing her hand tightly and shoving it away when she tried to reposition his belongings on the screening tray. Passengers were delayed for three hours while the airline found a replacement pilot. He was later charged with assault and battery and eventually fined just $100.
2. British Airways Pilot Charged with Wealthy Wife's Murder British Airways pilot Robert Brown was charged with murder in 2010 after the body of his estranged -- and very wealthy -- wife was found near her home in Windsor Great Park. The couple, who had two children together, were in the final throes of a divorce settlement when Joanna Brown went missing from her mansion. The pair were married for 11 years, but Joanna, the daughter of a rich property developer, was said to have been fearful of losing part of her family fortune when they began the divorce settlement three years prior to her murder. She was allegedly killed by a severe blow to the head.
3. Delta Pilot Arrested for Carrying a Concealed Weapon
Clueless -- and not so clueless -- passengers have tried to go through security with weapons on their person, but you'd expect more from a pilot. Matthew McDaniel, an off-duty Delta Air Lines pilot, was arrested in May 2010 when TSA employees noticed a loaded .38 special handgun tucked into his carryon luggage during the x-ray screening process at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. According to reports, McDaniel, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, said that he had borrowed his girlfriend's bag and forgotten to take the gun out of it when he cleaned it out.
4. Air India Pilots get in In-Flight Brawl with Crew at 30,000 feet
In 2009, an Air India flight bound from the United Arab Emirates to Delhi erupted into chaos somewhere over Pakistan when an argument between two pilots and two crewmembers spilled from the cockpit into the main cabin. According to reports from the cabin crew, the pilots had sexually harassed a female flight attendant, who later filed a claim. Counter-claims by the pilots, however, said that the sexual harassment claim was a ploy to divert attention from accusations of misconduct that had been brought against a male crewmember. Things had gotten ugly in-flight and the cockpit was left unmanned while the airline employees became physically and verbally abusive with each other in full view of passengers. Police reports later confirmed that the female flight attendant had been assaulted and a case was brought against the pilots.
5. Frisky Encounter Between a Pilot and Flight Attendant Leads to Arrest
A pilot and flight attendant for Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines, who turned a layover into a frisky foray in the woods, got more than they bargained for in 2008 when they got lost -- and then found -- in the most awkward of ways. During a layover at Harrisburg International Airport, Jeffrey Paul Bradford and Adrianna Connor apparently had dinner at a nearby diner and imbibed heartily before heading into the wild for a liaison. At some point, the pair got separated in the woods. And when a clothes-less Bradford (according to reports, he was wearing just his wristwatch and flip flops) approached a passerby to ask for shorts to wear, she called 911, and a thermal-imaging helicopter was used to search the woods. The pilot was charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure (among other things) and both he and Connor were suspended from duty with the airline pending an investigation.
6. Drunken United Airlines Pilot Arrested at London's Heathrow Airport United Airlines pilot Erwin Vermont Washington was three times over the legal limit when Scotland Yard police arrested him in 2009 at London's Heathrow Airport. All passengers were onboard Washington's Chicago-bound flight and it was ready for departure when a crewmember, who had apparently smelled alcohol on the pilot's breath, reported Washington to authorities. The boozed up breathalyzer analysis showed the pilot to have 31 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath (the legal limit for a pilot to fly is just 9 micrograms). There were reports that Washington had locked himself in the cockpit for an hour while the police tried to persuade him to come out. He was removed from duty by the airline and confronted with the possibility of a two-year jail sentence and fine.
7. Fake Swedish Pilot Arrested at Amsterdam Airport
Fake plastic surgeons are scary enough -- but fake pilots? Sweden native Thomas Salme, who held an expired commercial pilot's license but not a license to pilot passenger flights, flew passenger jets without an official license for 13 year before getting busted. He was caught in 2009 at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and taken into custody directly from the cockpit of a Turkish-carrier Corendon Airlines flight that was minutes from takeoff. According to reports in a German magazine, Salme had forged his own Swedish flying permit and trained on a flight simulator while working as a maintenance engineer at Scandinavian Airlines. A tipoff from someone in Sweden led to Salme's arrest.
8. Ryanair Pilot Attempts to Bite Police Officer Following Arrest
He may have been off duty at the time, but a Ryanair pilot certainly did not put his company's best colors forward when he attempted to bite a Dublin police officer after being taken into custody for throwing a traffic barrier into the street in October 2009. The pilot, Patrick Taaffe, who was allegedly drunk at the time, became verbally abusive with officers at the scene of the event. He was brought into custody, and while being searched by a police officer at the station, the newly trained pilot apparently tried to bite the officer's hand. The pilot was arrested a second time just a few weeks later after failing to pay a taxi fare and assailing the driver with verbal abuse.
9. Northwest Airlines Pilots Get Distracted by Laptops, Overshoot their Destination
Anyone who's ever gone off on a Google tangent knows how easy it is to get distracted by a computer. But you'd like to think the pilots flying your plane would have more self-control. In 2009, twoNorthwest pilots -- Captain Timothy Cheney and Co-pilot Richard Cole -- were flying 144 passenger from San Diego to Minneapolis when they overshot the airport by some 150 miles. The reason? They apparently lost track of time while checking out a new pilot scheduling program on their laptops. Operating laptops in cockpits was against Northwest's rules, as well as the policies of most airlines. The pilots missed repeated calls from Air Traffic Control over the span of more than an hour and only realized they were no longer bound for Minneapolis when a flight attendant called them from the cabin five minutes before the flight was supposed to land. The pilots turned the plane around over Wisconsin and later landed safely -- but more than an hour late -- in Minneapolis. The FAA revoked the pilots' licenses.
10. United Airlines Pilot Charged with Running Drugs
A San Francisco-based pilot with United Airlines appears to have been moonlighting as a different kind of flying man altogether. James Hathaway was arrested in August 2010 after piloting a private plane loaded with 173 pounds of marijuana to a rural runway in North Carolina. The plane landed in the middle of the night at the Shelby-Cleveland County Regional Airport, but deputies and local police were awaiting its arrival. The pilot and his two passengers were immediately surrounded and brought into custody. Hathaway's attempted delivery using the 1978 Aerostar plane was apparently worth roughly $200,000. The plane was confiscated by U.S. Customs Enforcement, and Hathaway faces drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.