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Woman kicked off flight after accusing pilot of drinking

7:32 AM, Aug 4, 2010   |    comments
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NBC -- A Toluca Lake woman was recently kicked off a Delta Airlines flight after reporting that she thought she had smelled alcohol on the captain's breath.

Cynthia Angel said the incident occurred on July 19 as she was trying to travel home to Southern California from Georgia. She had just spent two weeks visiting her son, an actor, who was shooting a movie near Atlanta.

Angel, 51, said the trouble occurred after she and three other passengers had a brief conversation with one of the pilots of Delta Airlines Flight 2355. She learned later that the pilot was actually the captain of the flight.

"The flight had been delayed almost an hour," said Angel. "We were in the jetway waiting to get on the flight when the pilot walked by us and I jokingly said, 'Boy you had been here a long time.'"

Angel said the captain spoke to her and the three other passengers. After he walked away, said Angel, another passenger asked if they had smelled alcohol on the pilot's breath.

"A gentleman standing behind me asked, 'Did anyone smell that? It smelled a little like vodka,'" said Angel. "We all agreed that he did smell alcohol, but we didn't know if he had been drinking or what we should do about it."

Angel said she volunteered to talk with the head flight attendant once aboard the plane.

"I told her that I didn't know what protocol is, but I believe I smelled alcohol on one of the pilots' breath," said Angel.

Angel said the flight attendant immediately talked to another pilot who was in the cockpit getting ready for departure.

"He asked me to come inside the cockpit, where he shut the door and asked me about my conversation with the pilot in the jetway," said Angel. "I told him what I had told the flight attendant; that other passengers and I thought we had smelled alcohol on the pilot's breath."

Angel said the pilot informed her that it was the captain of the flight who spoke with her. He assured her that the captain had not been drinking.

"He said he had been with the captain for several hours before the flight," said Angel. "I was satisfied with the pilot's explanation, thanked him and returned to my seat."

But Angel said that 20 minutes later, a Delta Airlines manager came aboard the flight and asked her to follow him off the plane.

"The manager wanted to hear what I had told the flight attendant," said Angel. "He then told me the captain took a test that proved he did not have anything to drink."

Angel said the manager then thanked her and she returned to her seat on the plane. At this point, she thought it was over.

"About 20 minutes later, the Delta manager returned with a female colleague and they asked me to gather my belongings and follow them off the flight," said Angel. "I was so embarrassed."

Angel said she followed them back into the airport. She was lead into a nearby office where she was told again that the pilot had tested negatively for alcohol.

"They told me they take these accusations very seriously and that the captain and his crew did not want me on his flight," said Angel.

Angel said Delta gave her meal and hotel vouchers, and said she could come back in the morning to take another flight back to Los Angeles.

"All I did was voice my concerns," said Angel. "I wasn't a threat to anyone and for them to remove me was wrong."

"I understand airlines have to have protocol," said Mark Silverman, Angel's Beverly Hills-based attorney who Angel contacted to look into the incident.

Silverman said his office has called and written Delta Airlines for a response and to ask the airline to open an investigation into the incident.

"She was just trying to be a good citizen. You'd think Delta would thank her for her concern," he said.

NBCLA also contacted Delta Airlines for comment. Susan Elliott from Delta's corporate communications office sent this response via e-mail: "Once we have reviewed Mrs. Angel's letter and investigated her claims, we will follow-up with her on our findings."

"Making drinking accusations against pilots is a serious matter," said Ross Aimer, CEO of Aviation Experts, LLC.

"If you think someone is drunk, you owe it to yourself, your loved ones and other passengers to report it," said Aimer, who is also a retired United Airlines captain. "However, in this case, because the captain had not been drinking, Delta made the right decision by asking her to leave the plane."

Aimer explains that in situations like this, flights usually end up delayed or canceled because the captain will take himself off the flight.

"It's an either you or me situation," said Aimer. "She had to go because the captain has his crew and hundreds of other passengers to think about."

Aimer adds that if he found himself in a similar situation, he'd do the same thing.

"The issue of pilots and drinking has become a very big deal, and accusations like that could end your career," Aimer said.

NBC

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