This is the first in my series of funny stories from my time at the airport. They’re mostly entertaining, some are a little sad, this one was maddening and entertaining at the same time.

It was a double-dose of my favorite 2 days at the airport – Saturday afternoon and a holiday afternoon. Back in the day – 2003 (ha) airlines would thin their schedules a bit on a holiday. Our last departure was the 4PM to St. Louis, booked to a whopping 7 customers, all of whom were upgraded to first class for weight and balance purposes. The airport was so quiet that I felt comfortable enough to retreat to my office and take care of the bane of a supervisor’s existence, paperwork. And then I heard the words I did not want to hear on a Saturday afternoon – “could you please come to gate 26?” Noting the normally serene agent had a bit of tension in his voice, I called the gate to find out what was going on.

“Marshall, you gotta get down here…one of the passengers is wigging out….and she wants to smell the Captain’s breath to see if he’s ok to fly!” Needless to say, I made my way to the gate where I arrived in the middle of one of the more interesting scenes I’ve witnessed. There was a gate agent, a mad captain, and a family of three – exasperated husband, crying wife, and a child who kept repeating “Mom, can we just get on the plane?” I talked to the agent who told me that things started heading downhill when he paged the family to the podium and presented them with three first class boarding passes. Rather than just accept them and get on the airplane, crying wife took the opportunity to ask the agent if we breathalyzed our pilots before each flight, and if not, could she smell the pilots’ breath? Unbeknownst to crying wife, Captain T-Totaler was behind the podium checking the weather and heard this little exchange, and then things got really cute.

Captain T-Totaler was good and exercised that crying wife had questioned his sobriety, was in no mood to let her smell his breath, and refusing to fly until both he and his co-pilot were drug tested. Crying wife, who I later found out, tried to board the flight prior to boarding being called so she could check to see if the pilots were sober, just kept digging the hole deeper, only making Captain T more angry. It was apparent that I needed to separate them. Sometimes the airport is like kindergarten, you know. I managed to find three seats over Chicago for them, rushed them to the gate, and put them on the plane just before the door closed. Then I returned to the mess they had created. I hoped against hope that Captain T might fly now that I had put crying wife on another airplane, but I’d hoped for naught. We’d actually managed to move all but 2 of the remaining passengers to other flights, but dispatch would not cancel the flight. It seems that MD-80 had to be in St. Louis that night. If you think finding a good meal or nice people at the airport is difficult, try finding a drug tester on a holiday.

We waited. I tried to entertain our remaining customers, told jokes, bought food, talked about airline careers, and laughed about the situation we were in. Sometime around 9PM, a drug tester appeared, tested our pilots (they passed), and the airplane finally left with a crew of 5 and 2 paying customers. I would later read about the events I just described in the local newspaper. It seems crying wife knew someone that knew someone at the local paper and managed to get herself interviewed. Her version of events was that she simply asked if we tested our pilots and was removed from a flight. She left off the part about getting rebooked on a flight that got her and her family to their destination within an hour of original schedule, attempting to board a non-boarding airplane to smell someone’s breath, and the maximum inconvenience experienced by her fellow customers.

Moral of the story – if you are concerned about alcohol testing for pilots, I think I’m safe in saying that you shouldn’t be. If you’re still concerned, don’t ask if you can smell the captain’s breath.

Just another day at the airport. Next up – He Grabbed Your What?!

-MJ, October 12, 2013