Table of Contents


Alcohol and Flying – Know the Rules

Capt. Patrick Cowle,


UAL MEC Aeromedical


Misuse of Alcohol Can Lead to Serious Legal Trouble

 John Hanson- ALPA Attorney and Contract Administrator


Alcohol Prohibitions for Pilots and Flight Instructors

 By Suzanne Kalfus, Senior Attorney, ALPA Legal Department


Alcohol Testing, Consumption and Metabolism Rates

 Dr. Keith Martin, ALPA Medical


What to Do if you Suspect a Pilot May Be Impaired

 Suzanne Kalfus, Senior Attorney, ALPA Legal Department


John Hanson, ALPA Attorney and Contract Administrator


A Perspective from a Union Representative

 F/O Carlos Rodriguez, UAL MEC Council 12 Vice-Chairman



 Capt. Craig Korsgard,




Layover Do’s and Don’ts



Dear Fellow Pilot,


Every so often, an issue comes before us that we simply cannot afford to look the other way. As one of your union officers, I have an inside view that brings to light issues that impact each and every one of us. One such issue is alcohol and its possible ramifications on pilots’ lives and careers.


Alcohol use is one issue our industry has faced. It seems to always trigger a substantial amount of press. There are many issues with alcohol that many of our fellow pilots may not be aware. One fact we should all beware of is that failing a breathalyzer test for alcohol is just the beginning of one’s problems. A failed breathalyzer results in the revocation of one’s pilot certificate. 


We cannot assume that all our fellow pilots know the facts and issues associated with alcohol. It’s an issue too important to ignore. To help remind our members of the ramifications of alcohol,   I asked many of our committee volunteers to create and assemble a compilation of articles concerning alcohol use and our careers.  While the document that follows is lengthy, it is my hope that you find it helpful as you contemplate your profession and your livelihood.


As I read the articles, I began to understand how long it could take, worst case, to return to a zero blood alcohol level after having maybe one too many drinks in a fatigued state.  In one of my calculations I doubled the time as one article indicates metabolism can vary by as much as 50 percent, and I start below the average weight to begin with.  I came up with 20 hours – too long to be over the legal alcohol limit and recover.  I also was reminded from the articles about serving size, and therefore how to count what I have consumed properly.


One of the articles is by a Local Council representative who describes the emotions he experiences when he receives a text, call or voicemail advising him that a pilot has a problem with alcohol.   His emotions stem from his knowledge of the challenges and misery that lie ahead for that pilot.


Peruse the sections that you like at your leisure.  We will periodically re-communicate some or all of these articles in the future to keep the issue in at the forefront as we protect our jobs and our profession.


I would like to thank the contributors who researched and wrote these articles for all of our benefit.  Our EAP, Aeromedical and legal professionals and volunteers, and our elected reps do a great service to our pilot group every day.  I would also like to thank our Communications Committee, which was tasked with editing and compiling this document.  If this document keeps one of our fellow pilots out of harm’s way, it will have been worth the effort. 




Captain Wendy Morse

Chairman, United MEC 





Alcohol and Flying – Know the Rules

By Captain Patrick Cowle

UAL MEC Aeromedical Chairman


Alcohol use by commercial pilots has gotten quite a bit of media attention lately.  While you may already know most, if not all, of this information, we think it is a good time for an update. What follows are a series of articles that illustrate various items that should be considered when consuming alcohol, particularly when on a layover. The intent of this series is not to preach or to imply some underlying theme, but rather to review and remind us all of the facts and sometimes risks that might occur when consuming our favorite adult beverages.


So let me begin. We, as pilots, like to have black and white rules to follow to keep us clear of conflict.  For the last twenty years, United pilots have operated under the 12 hour rule (prior to that the rule was 24 hours).  If we quit partaking of alcoholic beverages 12 hours prior to a flight, we are ok to fly, correct?


The answer is, “Maybe.”  There are a lot of variables.  We all have seen the charts that suggest that we can consume one alcoholic beverage per hour and still be legal to drive.  The obvious variables include body type and metabolism.  We also know that there is a difference between a can of Coors Lite and a stein of bier at the Hoffbrau Haus in München.   Yes, there is a difference.  These charts are also aimed at driving not flying.  Driving blood alcohol content varies by state but generally is 0.08%.


The variables that I want to highlight are different.  They are the variables with the rules and regulations we thought we understood.


FAR 91.17 makes no reference to our 12-hour rule.  Instead it states that we may not operate or attempt to operate an aircraft:


  • Within 8 hours of having consumed alcohol

  • While under the influence of alcohol

  • With a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or greater

·     If you report for duty in the U.S. and are suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, you can be required to take a breathalyzer test.  Refusal to submit to the test is equated with a positive result.  If you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) over .04%, the FAA will REVOKE ALL OF YOUR CERTIFICATES.   While you may be able to regain them, you will not be allowed to do so for at least one year.  The FAA will also invalidate your medical certificate, as they view any violation of these FARs as proof that you are an alcohol abuser.  You also may be subject to criminal prosecution, as there are Federal and State laws prohibiting operating or attempting to operate an aircraft under the influence of alcohol.   The criminal laws vary, but even .04% BAC could land you in jail.  

Here is another point to consider.  We operate into and out of many different countries.  Each country we go into has its own alcohol rules and laws.  An example would be that British law prohibits pilots from flying with more than 20 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood in their body.  This equates to 0.02% blood alcohol content.  That is half of the FAA maximum in the USA and a quarter of the maximum for driving!  The rough gauge would now be 3 oz. of the 12oz. can of Coors Lite per hour.  In the UK, there is no “civil” enforcement – only arrest and criminal prosecution.


We are regulated by each nation’s rules that we fly into.  We are responsible for abiding by their governing alcohol rules.  We start service soon to West Africa.  Do you know where to find the alcohol rules for Nigeria in the FOM?  Neither do I and yet I am responsible for them.  We have asked UAL to research and provide country by country alcohol information to us but we do not have it yet.  Lacking specific information on what the rules may be, the safe course of action may well be to ensure that you will be at 0.00% BAC at report time.


Do not fly under the influence of alcohol.  Do not let your fellow pilots even get into the crew van to the airport if there is a question of alcohol.  There is too much at risk and everybody is watching us. 


If you are out on a trip and are confronted with a potential alcohol violation by a fellow pilot, you can call ALPA for assistance.   Make sure you have the phone numbers with you for the MEC Office, and your Council Representatives.   If unable to get through on those numbers, call the ALPA Air Safety Hotline – they can get you in touch with an ALPA attorney for advice and assistance.  The Air Safety Hotline has coverage 24 /7 and they accept collect calls, even international.


Misuse of Alcohol Can Lead to Serious Legal Trouble

By John Hanson, ALPA Attorney and Contract Administrator


Suppose you are out on a trip.  You have a 16 hour layover in Phoenix.  You get to the hotel and go out to dinner with your crew and have a few drinks.  You decide to go out to a bar to watch a ballgame on TV and there you have several more drinks.  You stop drinking exactly 12 hours before the next day’s scheduled departure at 9 am.  You stay out a bit longer to see the end of the game, and then back at the hotel you can’t get to sleep.  You toss and turn and finally fall asleep around 1:30 in the morning.  The next morning you are feeling tired and doze off after the alarm and wake-up call.  You wake up with a start and have five minutes before show time for the van ride.  You don’t have time to shower – you just throw on your uniform, and race down to the lobby.  You are five minutes late for the van, and the hotel was just starting to call up to your room.


At the airport you pass through security and go to the gate to park your bags on the aircraft.  The CSR checks you in, and you go on down to Station Ops.  Twenty minutes later as you are getting ready to head back up to the gate the Station Manger arrives and asks to talk to you.  You have what seems to be an innocuous conversation, but then she tells you that you will need to take a breathalyzer test.  The CSR smelled alcohol on your breath, and so does she. 


The next thing you know, you are on the phone with the FODM who tells you that the flight is being delayed and the tester is on the way to the airport.  You call your Council Chairman, who manages to patch in an ALPA lawyer on the phone.  The testing process is explained, including your obligation to comply with the breathalyzer test, as the Station Manager has observed you and determined that there is a “reasonable suspicion” that you may be presently under the influence of alcohol.  The Station Manager received training on making these evaluations, and once the decision is made to summon the tester, there is no turning back.  If you refuse the test, the FAA treats it as a positive.


Fifteen minutes later you take the initial “screening” breath test.  It reads .046.  Since this is over the limit of .04, you will have to take a confirmation test, the results of which will count towards determining if you are in violation of the FAR.  These are the longest 15 minutes of your life.  The second test reads .044.  You are taken off the trip, and told to wait in Operations for further instructions.  You call back the ALPA attorney, and have the first of what will be many conversations with him. Shortly after that your Flight Manager calls and says that they are arranging for you to deadhead back to the domicile, where he and other members of the local EAP team will meet you.


In the coming days and weeks the following will transpire:  The Company asks you to submit to a formal substance abuse evaluation to determine whether you have a medical problem with drinking.  As the ALPA attorney explained, the FAA’s Federal Air Surgeon has found that a single incident of reporting for duty with a blood alcohol content above .04 is nearly always evidence enough for the FAA to invalidate your medical certificate.  Your only route back to a First Class Medical Certificate is treatment through EAP.  The results of the breath tests will be reported to the FAA, and they will open an investigation.  Sometime after that the letter will come – probably via FedEx.  The FAA is revoking all of your certificates.  The Order of Revocation is effective immediately because the FAA Administrator has determined that an Emergency exists, threatening air safety.  The emergency threat is you. 


The ALPA lawyer analyzes the case and explains that while you can appeal the revocation, there is no practical hope of overturning the revocation of your certificates.  With the breathalyzer test results in hand, and given the fact that you had already reported for duty at the aircraft, and conducted flight planning in Operations, the FAA’s case is virtually air tight.  The breathalyzer machines are maintained, tested, and re-calibrated regularly to meet federal standards, and there is very little chance that a judge will find the result to be unreliable.  An appeal of an FAA action against your certificates is heard by an Administrative Law Judge of the NTSB.  But under the law, the Administrative Judge cannot overturn the FAA’s choice of penalty if it is within the range of penalties established by the FAA for the particular violation.  So if you are found to be in violation, even a sympathetic Judge cannot overturn the revocation.


So you try to “plea bargain” with the FAA.  The Chief Counsel’s Office of the FAA in Washington has instructed all FAA field attorneys that they may not plea bargain down a pilot alcohol violation case to anything less than revocation of all certificates.  The best they are willing to offer is to perhaps shave some time off the 1 year period from the date of the revocation before you will be allowed to reapply and seek to regain your certificates.  Since it took the FAA two months to issue the revocation order, the reduction in time means that you will still won’t be able to even begin the road back to flying for a full year – and that is dependent on full compliance with the EAP program and successful medical recertification.


Suppose you agreed to enter EAP.  During that one year before you can even try to regain your pilot certificates, you will be working to re-qualify for a medical certificate.  As you are not medically fit to fly, you will be able to use sick leave, vacation and short term disability to keep getting paid.  But unfortunately you injured your shoulder last year and were out four months re-habbing a torn rotator cuff.  You only have two months of sick leave.  Add in 30 days of vacation, and 3 months of 55% disability pay, and after six months there is no more income.  Six months later you have re-taken the written exams for private, instrument, multi-engine,commercial  and ATP ratings, and you are working with an FAA designated examiner to complete the flight checks.  


Now let’s suppose that you were not laying over in Phoenix, but instead were in London.  And it was not a CSR who smelled alcohol on your breath, but instead at security you dropped your bag while hoisting it up on the belt for the x-ray machine and it fell on your foot.  The screener asked you if you are alright, and you exchange pleasantries.  20 minutes later it is the London police who find you in Operations to report that the screener smelled alcohol.  The police have a breathalyzer with them. The FARs require that you submit to a breath test by a law enforcement agency, or again, the result will be presumed to be positive.


After the breath test, you are taken to the police station and a doctor is called to administer a blood test.  You are then arrested and taken to jail. You are charged with a violation of the Transport Safety Act of 2003, in that you performed activities that are ancillary to aviation functions with an unlawfully high blood alcohol content. You are arrested because you had “reported for duty,” and, as Captain, you flight planned and signed for the aircraft.  This could be considered to be preparing  to serve as a pilot of an aircraft.


Yours might be a test case, as you were arrested down in Operations – not on board the aircraft as has occurred with a few other foreign pilots in London.  But you are clearly over the legal limit, as in the UK the legal limit is .02.  Now in addition to the FAA revocation, you are facing criminal prosecution in a foreign country, with the possibility of jail time.  ALPA might be able to help you find a criminal defense attorney, but there is little we can do to keep you out of the news.  British news outlets pay “stringers” to hang around the courts to pick up juicy stories for them.  You get written up in the London tabloids, which in this internet era, means that the local TV station back home will soon find out and reporters will be camped out at your door. 


These scenarios are not precise descriptions of actual pilot cases, but are drawn from elements of real cases.  Please take heed and do not become my next “client.”



Alcohol Prohibitions for Pilots and Flight Instructors

By Suzanne Kalfus, Senior Attorney, ALPA Legal Department
Excerpted and Reprinted from Air Line Pilot, April 2003


Airline pilots must know and abide by the current regulations governing alcohol use. As a result of certain high-profile cases, the FAA is now taking emergency revocation action against pilots’ airman certificates when alcohol test results are reported above the legal limits or when pilots are believed to have violated other alcohol prohibitions. Clearly, this is the most serious penalty the FAA can impose and one with grave ramifications for the affected pilot. Revocation of an airman certificate remains a permanent part of the pilot’s FAA file. A pilot whose airman certificate has been revoked may not reapply for one for a full year. The FAA requires the pilot to re-take and pass all of the tests required for each certificate and rating.


This is a time when airline pilots, other airline employees, and passengers are under tremendous stress. Try to avoid using alcohol in response to the surrounding anxieties and pressures. Look out for your fellow pilots (especially flight crew members) and be aware if any of your peers appear to be abusing alcohol. Alcohol problems in airline pilots first appear outside the work place. Remember, you might save someone’s career by getting help for him or her sooner rather than later.


If you see a peer drinking to excess on a layover or elsewhere, consider whether that person might need help. ALPA was one of the founders of the highly successful pilot peer intervention and treatment program—known as HIMS—through which airline pilot volunteers help other pilots get assistance with alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse. Do not hesitate to contact a member of your MEC or LEC HIMS or Aeromedical Committees, either to get more information or to report concerns about a fellow pilot. The Committees’ goal is to help peers get help when needed and preserve the pilots’ careers. And of course, you can always contact the ALPA Aeromedical Office for advice or help.


In this highly stressful environment in which airline pilots are working, they are subject to greater scrutiny than ever before. Security screeners, passengers, air marshals, and even air traffic controllers have reported allegations of pilot alcohol use to company officials or law enforcement officers. While many of these charges have been unfounded and the pilots exonerated, some have not been.


Do not report for duty in violation of the regulations or company policy, and do not allow your peers to do so either.


What follows is a summary of the main regulatory, alcohol misuse provisions, most of which are now found in a newly renumbered Part 120 of the FARs. We urge you to review them, understand them, and comply with them. Do not risk your career and livelihood by misunderstanding the regulations or by making an error in judgment in following them. Please spread the word to ensure that your fellow pilots are also aware of these obligations.


Reporting for duty within 8 hours after consuming alcohol

Airline pilots are generally well aware that they are subject to the FAA’s longstanding 8-hour prohibition against pre-duty alcohol consumption. Of course, airline pilots must comply with their employer’s policies (UAL -12 hour rule), which may impose longer prohibitions against pre-duty alcohol use. However, ceasing alcohol consumption in accordance with the pre-duty use prohibitions can be insufficient to comply with other regulations.


A pilot may stop drinking 8 hours before report time and still not be legal to fly 8 or 12 hours later. This is because the acceptable alcohol concentration threshold for pilots is extremely low. Do not forget that the rules prohibit pilots from performing safety-sensitive duties with a breath alcohol concentration as low as .02. This is the lowest breath alcohol concentration reading considered to be an accurate indication of the consumption of alcohol. A reported alcohol concentration between .02 and .039, while not a rule violation in and of itself, does preclude the pilot from flying until either 8 hours have passed, or the pilot is retested and reports a reading below .02.


Reporting for duty or remaining on duty while having a blood alcohol concentration of .04 or greater

Reporting for duty or remaining on duty while having a blood alcohol concentration of .04 is a violation of the rules and, if shown, will lead to emergency revocation of one’s airman, medical, and any other FAA-issued certificates (such as a mechanic certificate). Under the FAA regulations, airline pilots are subject to random, reasonable-suspicion, post-accident, return-to-duty, and follow-up alcohol testing. Testing above .04 on a random, reasonable-suspicion, post-accident, or follow-up test is a rule violation subject to FAA sanction.


Using alcohol while on duty or while on call for duty

Flight crew member duties

A pilot who reports for flight crew member duties is absolutely prohibited from consuming alcohol from any source (including food and medicines) after reporting. Uncertainties in this area have occurred when a pilot is in an "on call for flight duty" status and not aware of it. If you consumed alcohol while believing you were off the schedule, and are then contacted to report as a reserve pilot, do not report for duty under any circumstances if you are not medically fit—including not being free of alcohol within the meaning of the rules.


You must also be clear about whether your airline policy considers you to be "on call" in any other situations. At some airlines, under certain circumstances, deadheading pilots are considered to be on call for flight duty. Clarity about your obligations, including when you are subject to alcohol prohibitions and when you may be subject to testing, is essential.


Flight instructors

The FAA recently uncovered a little-known and little-disseminated policy "clarification" stating that simulator instructors are considered to be performing "flight instruction" duties for purposes of the alcohol testing regulations. This means that instructors whose duties may involve only training and checking in a simulator and in a classroom are, nonetheless, subject to the alcohol rules, including the testing provisions. This interpretation is not contained in the regulations, was not published in the federal register, is not accessible on the FAA website, was not distributed to certificated airmen, and is absent from many airlines’ alcohol policies.


Nevertheless, the FAA relied upon it in a recent case, revoking a simulator instructor’s certificates, an action that has been upheld by an Administrative Law Judge and the NTSB.


Accordingly, getting the word out about this FAA interpretation of its regulations is very important. Be sure that the pilots you know who perform simulator instruction functions are aware that they are subject to alcohol testing even when on full-time assignment at a training facility.


Reporting for duty under the influence of alcohol

The prohibition against acting—or attempting to act—as a crew member while under the influence of alcohol has been in effect for many years. This obligation predates the FAA’s mandatory alcohol testing scheme. The ban is contained in Federal Aviation Regulations Part 91.17, while the alcohol testing provisions are in Part 120. The requirement to not act (or attempt to act) as a crew member under the influence of alcohol is independent of the prohibition against having a blood alcohol concentration of .04.


Thus, while an alcohol test can demonstrate that one is under the influence, it is not the only means to do so. Do not assume that, because you have not been tested, you could not be charged with being under the influence of alcohol. Evidence of prior alcohol consumption, or other evidence of impairment, can be used.


Do not risk your career by reporting for duty with any measurable amount of alcohol in your body or while suffering any of the effects of alcohol.


Refusing to submit to an employer-requested alcohol test required under the FAA testing regulations

The DOT/FAA-mandated testing program obligates each air carrier to subject its flight crew members and flight instructors to various types of alcohol testing. Categories of tests include random, post-accident, reasonable-suspicion, return-to-duty, and follow-up testing. Refusal to submit to a required random, post-accident, reasonable-suspicion, or follow-up alcohol test is grounds for FAA certificate action and may well lead to certificate revocation.


Officers enforcing driving-while-intoxicated laws

Note that FAR Section 91.17(c) addresses officers enforcing flying-while-impaired laws. That is a different provision than the FAR addressing driving a motor vehicle while impaired. Section 61.15 requires pilots who have a "motor vehicle action" to report it to the FAA’s Security Division within 60 days of the date of the action.


A "motor vehicle action" includes a conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence of either alcohol or a drug. A "motor vehicle action" also includes an action in which a pilot’s license to operate a motor vehicle is cancelled, suspended, or revoked (or his or her application for such a license is denied) for a cause related to operating the motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence.


This means that a pilot may have a reportable incident even if never charged or convicted if his or her driver’s license or driving privileges have been adversely affected. In some states, an individual who is asked to submit to alcohol testing but refuses is subject to automatic suspension of driving privileges. The suspension may be contained in the paperwork the person is given. At times, an individual who is stopped in a state other than the one in which his or her driver’s license is issued may not even be aware that the state in which he or she was stopped suspended driving privileges and reported that suspension to the National Drivers’ Registry (NDR).


The FAA monitors pilots’ compliance with their reporting obligations by searching the NDR.  DUI reporting obligations are more broadly defined for purposes of answering the questions on the medical application (Form 8500) and include all motor vehicle actions which must be reported to the Security Division, as well as actions that resulted in a course of counseling or educational program even if no conviction occurred.  A little more than a year ago the FAA revised Form 8500 to now require a pilot to disclose arrests for DUI offenses, even if the charge is eventually dropped.


The failure to properly report a motor vehicle action, either by not writing to the FAA’s Security Branch or by not answering the applicable question correctly on the medical application, can result in FAA investigation and certificate action.  Failure to disclose a DUI arrest on your medical application may lead to certificate revocation for falsifying the medical application.  A single motor vehicle action (i.e., a DUI) that is properly reported—without more—is not the basis for certificate action by the FAA. However, two such actions within a 3-year period can result in certificate action.


You should also be aware that a pilot who has a second instance of using alcohol (or any other substance) in a situation in which that use was physically hazardous, such as in connection with a potentially dangerous instrument like a car—no matter how far apart the two incidents were—may no longer be authorized to exercise the privileges of his medical certificate. The FAA has considered DUIs and DWIs to evidence alcohol use in a physically hazardous situation for purposes of the medical standards.  Even a single DUI incident can lead to rigorous medical review, if the event is viewed as egregious by the FAA, including the presence of a high blood alcohol content reading.


Accordingly, if you get a single DUI or DWI, consider it a warning, and reexamine your drinking habits. Your HIMS and Aeromedical Committee representatives and the ALPA Aeromedical Office doctors are available to help you. 


Alcohol Testing, Consumption and Metabolism Rates 

By Dr. Keith Martin- ALPA Assistant Aeromedical Advisor

Reprinted from Air Line Pilot, November 1994


Management of alcohol consumption is a personal responsibility.


Editor’s note: The general information in this article is not intended to direct a reader’s use of alcohol, because each individual’s metabolic rate and conditions may cause alcohol concentrations to vary widely.


With the Department of Transportation (DOT) alcohol testing starting Jan. 1, 1995, even more questions are arising about how much alcohol a pilot can drink and not be concerned with violating the DOT rule. As before, federal aviation regulations (FARs) prohibit drinking alcohol eight hours before duty or flying with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.04 percent. This prohibition does not relate specifically to blood alcohol concentration, but rather to a breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater. The rule does not negate the blood alcohol concentration rates of the FARs.


Also under the rule, a reading on the evidential breath tester (EBT) of 0.02 to 0.039 requires removal from a safety-sensitive job for a period of at least eight hours, or until retested below the 0.02 level, whichever is sooner. Company policies will vary on what actions will be taken with individuals who test at levels lower than 0.04.


Individuals must realize that a positive reading may occur on an EBT without the person’s actually consuming alcohol. For example, the machine will note mouth alcohol from such substances as mouthwash, when a simultaneous blood alcohol concentration would be zero. The rule does require a follow-up confirmatory test at least 15 minutes following an initial positive test of 0.02 or greater, which is ample time to negate any positive breath test due to mouth alcohol alone. If the confirmatory test is negative, the entire test is considered negative under the rule. Therefore, the appropriate use of mouthwash or similar substances will not constitute a violation under the rule.


Rates of alcohol absorption and elimination vary greatly from individual to individual.


Alcohol is absorbed directly and rapidly from the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Not only does the rate of absorption vary among individuals; it also varies for the same person at different times. The rate of absorption depends primarily on the concentration of alcohol in the beverage or substance ingested, the rate of consumption of the beverage, and the emptying time of the stomach.


Alcohol is absorbed most rapidly in the small intestine, so anything that causes the stomach to empty rapidly, such as fasting, increases the rate of absorption and raises alcohol concentration. Delaying stomach emptying, such as by eating solid food, has the opposite effect.

Alcohol elimination or metabolism takes place primarily within the liver. The rate of metabolism is fairly constant within an individual. Generally noted to be about one gram of alcohol per 10 kilograms of body weight per hour, the rate varies from person to person as much as 50 percent. Most reports or charts in books or pamphlets are based on the average 150–160-pound individual, but individual weight variation is a key element in alcohol concentration calculations.


For most people, the easiest concept to remember is one related to the number of “drinks,” but the definition of a “drink” is important to this concept. A standard drink in this context is defined as follows:


  • 1.5 ounces (one level shot glass) of distilled 80-proof liquor (40 percent alcohol by volume),

  • 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol by volume), or

  • 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol by volume).


All of the above standard drinks contain 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol by volume and are considered equal. In other words, a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a single mixed drink — if they are the standard size as defined — should be considered as equal to each other.


Many individuals believe effects from mixed drinks are different from those of beer or wine. From the standpoint of alcohol concentration, however, this is not true. As noted above, differences occur due to rate of consumption, absorption, metabolism, and other factors.


For example, if the average 155-pound individual ingests one “standard drink,” the resulting alcohol concentration will peak somewhere around 0.03. Likewise for the 200-pound person, the concentration will be close to 0.02. A 110-pound individual will have an alcohol concentration closer to 0.04 from the same drink. This body weight variation is, for the most part, linear — the bigger you are, the more you dilute the alcohol concentration.


A normally functioning body eliminates alcohol at a rate of approximately 0.3 ounces of pure alcohol per hour. Once again, individuals will vary depending on how well their livers and kidneys function. On average, a person’s alcohol concentration takes approximately two hours to drop back to zero after one drink. Or, in terms of alcohol concentration, the percentage goes down approximately 0.015 per hour, or 0.01 during every 40 minutes of consumption.


Even though pilots are not allowed to consume alcohol within eight hours before duty (UAL  policy is 12 hours), some pilots remain concerned about their drinking alcohol within the rules and about testing above allowable limits — at a level that would violate the rule (0.04 or greater) more than eight hours after consumption. Again, testing at a level of 0.02 to 0.039, under the rule, requires temporary removal from the safety-sensitive job. Some companies’ policies may, however, be more restrictive.


Reemphasizing the cautions noted above concerning great individual variation, one can give some general guidelines concerning alcohol drinking. For the 155-pound individual, take the number of “standard drinks” consumed, multiply by a body weight factor of 0.03, and then subtract 0.01 for each 40 minutes of drinking. This will give an estimated alcohol concentration for a given point in time. You will then subtract 0.015 times the number of hours since your last alcohol consumption to give you an estimated alcohol concentration that number of hours in the future. The 200-pound individual will use 0.02 as the body weight factor times number of drinks while the 110-pound individual will use 0.04 as the body weight factor times the number of drinks.


Specifically stated, the equation is (body weight factor) times (number of drinks factor) minus (time of con­sumption factor) minus (time of elimination factor) equals approximate alcohol ­concentration.


The body weight factor varies but is roughly 0.04 for 110 pounds, 0.03 at 155 pounds, and 0.02 at 200 pounds. The time of consumption factor is 0.01 times every 40 minutes of drinking, and the time of elimination factor is 0.015 times every hour since last drink consumed.




To find the approximate alcohol concentration of a 155-pound individual who drinks four 5-ounce glasses of wine over two hours and then stops eight hours prior to duty:

  • multiply 0.03 (body weight factor) times 4 (number of drinks) to get 0.12;

  • subtract 0.03 (120 minutes divided by 40 minutes times 0.01, the time of consumption factor) to get 0.09;

  • subtract 0.12 (8 hours times 0.015, the time of elimination factor) to

  • equal a negative 0.03, which would mean a 0.00 alcohol concentration (a 0 reading on the breath test).

To find the approximate alcohol concentration of a 110-pound individual who has five mixed drinks over an hour and 20 minutes then stops eight hours prior to duty:

  • multiply 0.04 (body weight factor) times 5 (number of drinks) to get 0.2;

  • subtract 0.02 (80 minutes divided by 40 minutes times 0.01, the time of consumption factor) to get 0.18;

  • subtract 0.12 (8 hours times 0.015, the time of elimination factor) to

  • equal 0.06 alcohol concentration, which would mean a rule violation.

To find an approximate alcohol concentration of a 200-pound individual who has eight beers over an hour and 20 minutes and then waits eight hours prior to duty:

  • multiply 0.02 (body weight factor) times 8 (number of drinks) to get 0.16;

  • subtract 0.02 (80 minutes divided by 40 minutes times 0.01, the time of consumption factor) to get 0.14;

  • subtract 0.12 (8 hours times 0.015 time of elimination factor) to

  • equal 0.02 alcohol concentration, which, under the rule, would mean removal from a safety-sensitive position.


Remember in figuring these approximate alcohol concentrations that they are approximate. The elimination and consumption factors can vary widely. For example, the individual in the last example, who drinks more than a six-pack of beer within 8 to 10 hours of duty is likely to be a heavy alcohol user and may therefore not eliminate alcohol as quickly as the average individual. That person’s final concentration of alcohol may well be greater than this calculated 0.02 reading.


And when figuring alcohol consumption, always remember the possible additive effects of such alcohol-containing items as medication, dessert toppings, after-dinner liqueurs, and alcohol-based cooking ingredients.


Conservative approach

In summary, an individual should not be concerned over routine, minimal use of alcohol the day or night before a trip. One or two drinks will not normally be cause for a positive breath test 8 to 12 hours later, but individual elimination rates and conditions may cause alcohol concentrations to vary widely.


The more conservative the approach, the better. The longer the period of time from alcohol ingestion to duty, the less likely the possibility of a positive test result with alcohol concentrations exceeding DOT or company limits.


W. Keith Martin, M.D., M.P.H., is an associate aeromedical advisor with ALPA’s Aeromedical Office, which is located in Denver, Colo.




What To Do If You Suspect A Pilot May Be Impaired

By Suzanne Kalfus, Senior Attorney, ALPA Legal Department


John Hanson, ALPA Attorney and Contract Administrator
Reprinted from Air Line Pilot, April 2003 


Airline passengers today are jittery, and security personnel are concerned. In several instances, innocent flight crew members have heard allegations or off-hand remarks about the "pilots’ drinking." What should you do when you are free of alcohol but confronted with such allegations while on duty? If the assertion is serious (nonjoking), you should report it to your company and let a company official confirm your fitness for duty before performing any further flying.


 Typically a trained company official will want to directly observe you to confirm the absence of any reasonable suspicion of alcohol use.  Only if that trained observer determines that there is “reasonable suspicion” to believe you may be under the influence will you be required to submit to a breath alcohol test.  Determination of "reasonable suspicion" must be based on the direct observation of a trained supervisor—it is not permitted to be based on a third-party report. A finding of reasonable suspicion under the regulations must be "based on specific, contemporaneous, articulable observations concerning the appearance, behavior, speech, or body odors of the employee." FAR Part 120.217(d)(2).


In many instances, an airline official will be satisfied that the pilot is not under the influence without the need for any alcohol testing. Many pilots are eager to proceed as quickly as possible. However, some pilots are concerned that with such an allegation having been made, a contemporaneous alcohol test is the only way to fully exonerate themselves and provide a record of rule-compliant behavior. The fear is that, if an irregularity or other problem occurs later in the flight sequence, a question about the pilot’s fitness may resurface. Faced with such allegations, even with company clearance to fly, some pilots insist on being tested for alcohol to provide a record of being "clean." The agreed protocol between ALPA and UAL is that in such circumstances no test should be conducted.    There may be some circumstances, however, when a pilot’s request for a test would be justified.  If you are facing such a situation, do not hesitate to call ALPA for assistance – if it is outside business hours, the Air Safety Hotline can patch you through to an ALPA Attorney for advice.—SK 


Now let’s suppose the issue arises regarding your fellow pilot.  You’re an Airbus FO flying with a Captain with whom you haven’t flown with before.  It’s the morning of day three of a four day ID.  The past two nights you have had dinner with the Captain, and had a couple of drinks.  Both nights, after you finished dinner you went up to your room, surfed the internet a bit, and went to bed.  Both nights the captain went into the bar across the street from the hotel for another drink.  You don’t know how long he stayed, or how much he drank, but you do know that when he went into the bar last night there were only about 20 minutes left before the 12-hour rule kicked in.  Now it’s morning and the Captain is late for the van.  You ask the front desk to connect you to his room.  He answers and says that he overslept and that he will be right down.  In a few minutes you meet up.  He doesn’t look too good: His eyes are a little bloodshot, and he just looks really tired.  You ask him how he is doing and he says fine.  You aren’t quite sure, but his breath smells a little bit off – maybe like that smell in the morning after a night of drinking, but you are not 100% certain.  He isn’t falling over or anything, but still, you have that funny feeling.  What are you going to do?  Mind your own business?

Well, your fellow pilot’s fitness to fly is your business.  The FAA has taken certificate action against a pilot for allowing his fellow pilot to operate an aircraft when he knew that the other pilot was not fit to fly. The action was revocation, and the violation was careless and reckless operation.  Furthermore, the ALPA Code of Ethics states: “He will realize that nothing more certainly fosters prejudices against and deprives the profession of its high public esteem and confidence than do breaches in the use of alcohol.  A pilot getting caught under the influence of alcohol as he is preparing to fly makes a compelling news story. In addition to the tragedy for the pilot who is caught, the more of these incidents that occur, the more false accusations and unfounded suspicions fall upon everyone else.

United Airlines operates crew aircraft not single seat aircraft. A pilot who reports for duty while impaired is responsible for his actions; but it is quite possible that others had an opportunity to intervene but failed to care for their fellow pilot and the profession.  Once a pilot enters security screening, the FAA will consider that pilot to have demonstrated his intent to fly, and, if he is found over the legal alcohol limit, it is too late for you to help him out of a jam.  Someone has to halt the progression of the situation.  So what steps are you to follow if you think your fellow pilot is impaired?  We are adults and professionals.  Tell him of your concerns.  If need be, tell him that he does not appear to be fit to fly.  Tell him that if there is any doubt as to whether he is fit to fly, he should not do so.  Do not let him put himself – and you – at further  risk.  You then make the confidential call to your ALPA representative; anything less and you have done a disservice to the individual and the profession and you own that part.  Let us be perfectly clear: hiding or covering up for an impaired pilot is not helping nor is it protecting him!

If you find yourself in this situation and truly don’t know what to do, one source of help are your local Council Officers.  Know their names and have their phone numbers with you.  Another source of help is your EAP committee. Their phone numbers can be found on the United MEC Website, EAP Committee page, or on SKYNET, MYWORKPLACE, under FLT OPS. You can also call the United MEC Office - (847) 292-1700 or (800) 922-2572 - during normal business hours, or the ALPA Safety Hot Line – (202) 797-4180 or (703) 892-4180 – any time day or night.  The MEC Office staff or Hot Line representative can quickly get you in touch with an ALPA attorney for advice. The volunteer line pilot Local Council officers and EAP Committee representatives, together with ALPA staff, will do whatever we can to help you avoid a legal catastrophe.


A Perspective from a Union Representative

By First Officer Carlos Rodriguez- UAL MEC Council 12 Vice-Chairman


Pilots have a public life and a private life. The public one is that which is represented when we are in uniform.  Regardless of the public perception, we live a life nestled in reality and humanity.


Over the last decade, our profession has been decimated by the greed of the almighty dollar, which has bewitched corporate managers like never in the past.  This, however, is a topic for an entirely different article.


The experiences of the past decade have had a very human impact on our profession.  Pilots and their families have suffered from the highest level, such as of loss of life (September 11, 2001) to what may seem by comparison insignificant, as loss of wages and pensions.  In the midst of this spectrum, pilots react differently to this personal impact, as we are human.  The economic and emotional impact of the past decade can create much grief.


Grief is not relegated to loss of life or loss of employment.  Grief can start well before an actual event, such as anticipation of a worst-case-scenario.  Experts say that grief has five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Experts also believe that they can come in any order.


Pilots compartmentalize our lives and sometimes this leads to dealing with grief alone…  The job of a union representative is one full of challenges, from enforcing our CBA with the company, to representing our constituents when charges are brought against them, lending an empathetic ear, ensuring that the company provides the necessary time to deal with family issues, etc.  We receive on-the-job training.  There are no manuals or courses to take…  The common thread in a union representative is that we are: Unionists, Solution-driven, and Empathetic.


While we are confronted with a myriad of issues not mentioned here, and while we learn as we go, there is one issue that seems the most compelling and challenging yet.  Alcohol or drug abuse is probably the most difficult issue for a union representative to deal with.  While drug abuse is seemingly non-existent, alcohol issues, because it is legal and socially acceptable, remains a potential problem.


Our union has programs such as the Employee Assistance Program, commonly known as EAP, to provide an avenue resulting in protecting and saving an individual pilot’s career.  While I cannot speak for other union representatives, I feel certain that we all will agree that the call that one of our pilots failed an alcohol test is the most disruptive of all.


We are solution-driven and are accustomed to solving a problem promptly.  Imagine a pilot who just tested positive for alcohol…  The sense of grief must be overwhelming, and he/she is in a position where there is only one road to take, no other options, in order to save the career.


The Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and The Air Line Pilots Association take this issue very seriously.  When a pilot needs representation there are many avenues we have available to us, as reps.  Conversely, if the issue is alcohol related, our involvement is at best minimal.  This is because there are very strict guidelines and procedures that must be followed if our pilot’s career is to be secured.


This creates the greatest sense of helplessness for a union representative.  The course that the accused pilot must endure is a very emotional and challenging one.  His/her family and friends are quickly aware of the issue.  It is embarrassing and many times this pilot finds him/herself alone.  The media is relentless in scooping the story and sympathy and privacy issues are ignored.  While union reps are often very capable of lending an ear, this process does not allow for much, if any, communication with the pilot. 


The only thing the union rep can do is ensure that the law is being followed, the process and procedure is being followed and monitor from the outside.  This in itself creates a feeling of helplessness with the representative.  It is truly the most angst creating event in the life of a union rep.  We can never imagine how devastating it must feel to fail an alcohol test.  Imagine having to inform your spouse and children…  Imagine spending the night in a foreign jail cell…  Being a rep and not being able to alter the course of events of what is to come is agonizing. … As pilots we fix things, and we can’t fix this as we would like.  When that call or text comes, our heart sinks.



The Employee Assistance Program

By Captain Craig Korsgard, Chairman UAL-MEC EAP Committee


For decades a diagnosis or admission of alcoholism was fatal to a pilot’s career.  The FAA would take your Medical Certificate and there was no way to get it back.  In the early 1970s some brave pilots began to work to change this.  They were recovering alcoholics who had been sober for years, and they wanted the FAA to recognize that they were safe, medically fit aviators.  In 1976 United Airlines, along with ALPA, took a leadership role in this effort by declaring that alcoholism is in fact a disease that is treatable like any other disease. Through that process, this group established the policy that pilots who realized that they were suffering from the disease of alcoholism could get into a treatment program and eventually return back to work and continue their career. The thought was that the alcoholic pilot would be given the opportunity to establish recovery from the disease with the possibility of returning to work, but also that in the process they were saving a life.  That is because alcoholism is a progressive disease, and if unchecked, it can and often will lead to death.


The Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, works under a very strict confidentiality code and any participant in the program can be assured that the details surrounding his/her situation will never be shared with anyone outside the program.  At the local level, the EAP committee consists of the LEC EAP representative, the Domicile Chief Pilot, and regional Medical Director.  They are supported by the staff EAP Counselor.  It is a voluntary program, and the vast majority of pilots in recovery from alcoholism came into the program due to problems in their lives that never manifested themselves on the job.  There is no jeopardy to coming forward – you will not be subject to discipline for admitting and seeking help for an alcohol or drug problem.


Although drinking issues occupy a majority of the time spent by EAP, other issues like drug use and domestic issues are handled by the committee. If a pilot finds that problems in his life are becoming so great that he can no longer seem to handle them, EAP is there to help. Contact your local ALPA EAP rep, and that individual will take the information and direct you toward the help you need.  In the case of domestic issues the rep will guide the pilot toward counseling if it seems appropriate.  If it is a family member with an alcohol or drug program, help is available.  In cases where the problem is the pilot’s alcohol or substance abuse, EAP will offer referral to a professional evaluation to determine if the pilot meets the diagnostic criteria to indicate a need for treatment. Based on the outcome of the evaluation the pilot may enter an intensive treatment program. The basic goal of treatment is to learn to manage your difficulties without resorting to abuse of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.  The alcoholic will learn how to live a life that is less chaotic, and will gain skills in managing stress.  And in the process he will arrest the progression of a serious illness that could cost him his career, his family, and even his life. 


The EAP program works with the support and guidance of the FAA so therefore any pilot deemed to have an alcohol or substance abuse problem does need to adhere to carefully laid out steps by the FAA.  Taking the step to get help for a drinking or drug problem takes courage.  The program is rigorous, and the one proven way to turn things around when your life is starting to spin out of control is the EAP program.  As you can see from the other articles, the alternative to getting help for a drinking or drug problem is to let it progress to the point where you have major legal and career problems on top of everything else.  The success rate for United pilots in EAP is 98%, and literally hundreds of United pilots owe the continuation of their careers, the preservation of their marriages, and their continued good health to taking that first step to get help.  If you or someone close to you is concerned that you have a drinking problem, contact your local EAP rep to discuss it.  If you are concerned about a fellow pilot, please don’t cover it up – your willingness to step up may be the one thing that saves that pilot’s career.  We are a phone call away.   


Layover Do’s and Don’ts   

  1. Enjoy your layover and do your best to maximize your rest.
  2. Remember the ALPA Code Of Ethics speaks directly to the issue of alcohol consumption—do your part and be professional and uphold the code.
  3. Remember the information presented are guidelines and are not absolute rules. It is always best to err on the safe side with regard to your alcohol consumption.
  4. Keep in mind the type of beverage you are consuming may be larger or contain more alcohol than the ‘standard’ beverage used in the outline guidance.
  5. The effects of missed meals and sleep will greatly reduce your body’s ability to process alcohol.  Missed meals and sleep is unfortunately our SOP.
  6. If you suspect yourself, or if you suspect that another crew member might be in jeopardy of violating the rules:

A.   Talk to each other early in the process.

B.   Solve the problem at the hotel or on the van. Once you pass through security you have demonstrated the intent to fly.

C.   Do not let yourself or other crew members report for duty if there is any doubt that you are fit to fly.

D.    If you can’t resolve the problem yourself—get others involved, Council Representative, EAP, MEC office, ALPA Safety Hotline.

  1. Above all, watch out for each other. Protect your brother and sister pilots’ backs and careers.