Thursday, August 5, 2010

One for the Road?

Tara Wallis-Finestone has the story at NBC Los Angeles:

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.
The story is headlined “Woman kicked off flight after accusing pilot of drinking” but a more accurate version would be “Woman kicked off flight after falsely accusing pilot of drinking.”

After the woman’s accusation was brought to their attention, Delta tested the pilot and determined he had not been imbibing. The pilot then exercised his prerogative and had the lady removed from his plane. (She received a hotel room and a later flight.) Despite the huffing and puffing of some online commenters, this seems to me to be a reasonable action. Among other things, there was a risk she would continue her accusations and create fear among the other passengers. 

I have no doubt the lady from Toluca Lake was sincere; but being wrong about such an accusation has consequences too. And detecting alcohol on someone’s breath is not all that easy. It’s a topic I took up in What the Nose Knows, immediately after a skeptical treatment of the ability of police officers to smell unburned marijuana.

When it comes to detecting drunk drivers, sniff-based forensics are on even shakier scientific ground. A study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found large variability in the ability of police officers to smell alcohol on a person’s breath. As a group, cops picked up the scent consistently only when the drinker had a very high blood alcohol level (the detection rate was 61% for BACs between 0.10 and 0.15%).

1 comment:

StyleSpy said...

Many years ago, when I was waiting tables for a living, I got stopped on my way home for having a headlight that wasn't working. I also happened to have had an entire carafe of white wine poured down me that shift. I rolled down the window to speak to the officer and the first thing out of his mouth was, "WHOA!!" Happily, a few moments conversation convinced him that I wasn't in fact completely legless, just hapless.

At any rate, it's been my experience, through 25 years of bar & restaurant work, that you have to be verrrrrrry close to someone to smell alcohol on his breath. Much closer than I've ever been to the pilot on any airplane.