I worked for the airline industry for close to 20 years, in the 80’s and 90’s, and during that time I can recall only one instance of a fellow airline employee breaking the law. That was American CEO Bob Crandall’s ill-fated attempt, in 1982, to persuade his counterpart at Braniff to collude on price hikes. No doubt other airline workers were breaking other laws during that period, but their transgressions never rose to the level of media interest or coverage. The airline business felt like a pretty law-abiding place.
In just the past week, though, no fewer than three instances of airline-worker misbehavior have made the national news.
United’s Pimping Pilot
As reported by the Houston Chronicle, United pilot Bruce Wayne Wallis was arrested last week for running a “massive” network of brothels in the Houston area. Wallis is also accused of using his flight school and charter service to provide fake work credentials for the prostitutes in his employ.
A guilty verdict could mean as many as 20 years in prison.
American’s Inebriated Aviator
This weekend, at Detroit Metro Airport, an American pilot was arrested after failing a Breathalyzer test prior to taking the controls of Flight 736 to Philadelphia. The flight was cancelled, and charges have yet to be filed.
FAA rules prohibit anyone from flying with a blood alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, or within eight hours of consuming alcohol.
AA736 had a scheduled departure time of 6:59 a.m. The pilot, whose name hasn’t been released, presumably washed his bacon and eggs down with a couple of Bloody Marys.
JetBlue’s Running Drug-Runner
Meanwhile, JetBlue flight attendant Marsha Gay Reynolds remains in a New York jail, pending her transfer to California to face charges of attempting to transport $3 million of cocaine.
Reynolds kicked off her shoes and bolted after being randomly picked for security screening at LAX. Airport officials subsequently discovered 70 pounds of coke in her bags. In the ensuing confusion, Reynolds managed to board another flight back to New York, where she’s based.
Arraignment in California court is scheduled for April 7.
Why? And Why Now?
Except for the fact that the alleged perpetrators worked for the airlines, there’s little in the way of a common thread among the incidents. Different genders. Different airlines. Different crimes.
It may be a stretch, but the three do share one common feature: All are members of their respective airlines’ flight crews. And as such, they are directly responsible for travelers’ safety.
That does give me pause, if only briefly. If there are bad actors working for the airlines, I’d rather they be in the boardroom than in the cockpit. You know, the way it used to be.
Reader Reality Check
Coincidence, or pattern? And if the latter, what accounts for it?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.