American Airlines Pilot Charged With Operating Aircraft Under the Influence

By Keri Blakinger 03/31/16

The pilot was taken into custody on the tarmac after failing two breathalyzer tests before takeoff.

American Airlines Pilot Charged With Operating Aircraft Under the Influence
Photo via Shutterstock

Police arrested an allegedly drunk American Airlines pilot on Saturday after he failed a breathalyzer test just before takeoff at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, according to local station WXYZ Detroit

A security agent noticed pilot John Maguire’s odd behavior and, minutes before takeoff, airport police were called to the scene. Michael Conway, the airport’s director of public affairs, told ABC News that the 50-year-old pilot failed a field breath test, as well as a second test after his arrest. 

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office told CNN that Maguire was charged with operating an aircraft under the influence, although he was only hit with a misdemeanor charge because he wasn’t technically operating the plane. 

"Although we do not often hear of pilots being allegedly intoxicated, the laws apply to everyone—whether one is on the roads or airways," prosecutor Kym Worthy said. A police report showed that Maguire’s blood alcohol content was .081%, or nearly twice the limit for piloting a plane.

After Maguire was collared, the flight—slated to leave Detroit for Philadelphia around 7 a.m.—was canceled.

“This is a serious matter and we are assisting local law enforcement and the Federal Aviation Administration with the investigation,” the airline said in a statement. “We will handle this matter appropriately as the safety and care of our customers and employees is our highest priority.”

Amanda Albrecht, a teenage passenger who went on social media to gripe about her “busted” spring break, expressed shock at the whole situation. “I honestly just couldn’t believe—I was speechless—that something like that could happen and, again, that he could get that close to the aircraft,” she told WXYZ. “I kind of just wanted American Airlines to be like, ‘Hey, sorry, can we do something about it?'”

According to FAA rules, pilots aren’t allowed to fly within eight hours after drinking—and it’s recommended that they wait a full 24 hours. The blood alcohol content limit for pilots is 0.04%, which is half the BAC limit for automobile drivers but the same as the limit for commercial drivers.

For added safety, the FAA tries to discourage pilots from flying even when they might be hungover. “A hangover effect, produced by alcoholic beverages after the acute intoxication has worn off, may be just as dangerous as the intoxication itself,” according to an FAA safety brochure. “Symptoms commonly associated with a hangover are headache, dizziness, dry mouth, stuffy nose, fatigue, upset stomach, irritability, impaired judgment and increased sensitivity to bright light.”

Maguire was released pending his arraignment, according to the Associated Press.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.