United Flight Attendants’ New 12 Hour Drinking Policy

Filed Under: United

Over the weekend United Airlines issued a memo to pilots, informing them that they have to stop drinking 12 hours prior to departure, compared to the previous policy of having to stop drinking eight hours before departure.

This followed an incident where a United flight from Glasgow to Newark was canceled because both pilots operating the flight showed up to work above the legal alcohol limit. The pilots ended up being arrested, and the flight was canceled.

Now, naturally there are also incidents every so often where flight attendants show up to work above the legal limit, though typically it’s not quite as much of a story. Why?

  • Airlines often staff flights above “minimums” for flight attendants, or can more easily find a reserve; so if a flight attendant isn’t fit to work, that doesn’t necessarily mean the flight will be canceled (meanwhile with pilots, they are typically staffed at their minimums)
  • While flight attendants no doubt have important safety duties, I don’t think the public is quite as horrified by the thought of an intoxicated flight attendant as they are by the thought of an intoxicated pilot

Anyway, it looks like United is adding all-around stricter rules for their flight crews when it comes to drinking.

United Airlines flight attendants now have to stop drinking at least 12 hours before they’re due to report for duty. Previously the policy was that they had to stop drinking eight hours before they were due to report for duty.

Flight attendants in the US can have a maximum blood alcohol level of 0.04, which is the same as it is for pilots. At least that’s the FAA mandated blood alcohol level, though when flying to other countries they might be subjected to more stringent rules.

Here’s how United explained this policy change to flight attendants:

Effective Saturday, August 17 (0600 local time), flight attendants will be prohibited from consuming alcohol for 12 hours prior to reporting for duty (currently 8 hours) and anytime while on duty. This change is to help assure flight attendant compliance with standards established by the United States and individual states where United operates around the world.

It is essential that flight attendants understand that minimum compliance with United’s policy does not assure compliance with Department of Transportation or individual state standards. Countries outside of the United States have different policies which include a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.00% and punishment criteria. It is your sole responsibility to report for duty as defined by the Company, DOT/FAA or the governing state or country.

As I noted at the time when the rule was changed for pilots, what’s interesting is that the amount of time between drinking and flying isn’t easily enforceable, unless a flight attendant admits to it, or is reported by someone else.

Also, I understand an arbitrary line has to be drawn somewhere, but I’m not sure the cutoff is actually that significant? For example, would you rather a flight attendant have a single beer 10 hours before departure, or get completely hammered 12 hours before departure?

Hopefully flight attendants are able to exercise good judgment, though there will always be some people who struggle.

In many cases this rule change means that flight attendants won’t be allowed to drink at all on some layovers. United flight attendants consistently have layovers of over eight hours, though in some cases may have layovers of under 12 hours. So in those cases employees wouldn’t be allowed to drink at all.

(Tip of the hat to Brian Sumers)

Comments
  1. Don’t forget about the other incident last week of the drunk FA on a United Express flight from ORD-SBN. This was on a CRJ where there’s often only one FA, and she wasn’t just a little over .04. Arrest records showed a BAC of .204

  2. I don’t see a big deal about the new rule. Why are people so alcoholic that they can’t live without any adult beverages for 12 hours? Or even days during layover. If you can’t live without a drink for some period of time, that job is probably not right for you.

  3. I work for a United regional and our rule is 10, most airlines go beyond the FAA requirements. When I told people about this they were surprised that United still had 8.

  4. @DB idiotic comment as I’m sure you would be fine in an aircraft with crew having knowingly consumed alcohol ? Should be 24 hours

  5. Pilots operating Part 121 airline operations (every major airline) actually have an alcohol limit of .02

  6. @Icarus

    So a FA on a 7:00 AM flight can’t have a glass of wine at an 8:00 PM dinner…I think that’s pretty idiotic.

  7. This is hardly unprecedented or unreasonable. All services of military aviation have had a 12 hour “bottle-to-brief” rule since the 90s. And it was augmented in the 00s with a rule forbidding consumption within 12 hours of any flight/mission planning activity.

  8. In your world however it can have an impact and no one wants to take a risk. Why is alcohol so
    Important to some people ? I am not t total however I guess you have no idea how complex the operation of an airline or flight is and everyone has a different tolerance threshold. Furthermore how do you know whether that person isn’t on meds

  9. The worst thing that ever happened to civilization was the elevation of the self-righteous.

  10. The UAL rule was always 12 hours prior to the merger w/ CAL…It was changed to the CAL 8 hr timeline when the companies merged…

  11. This rule is in place with almost all airlines. I am shocked that United is just in acting the 12-hour rule. What is ridiculous about this article is stating that most layovers for Flight attendants are over 8 hours. It may be true for Pilots across the board, however Flight attendants are consistently flown into the minimum of 8 hours once parked at the gate. Imagine what’s open after 10 PM once you make it to rest, and then back on shuttle to airport for 5 or 6 am flight? No meals on board, no flight delay and absolutely no over staffed flight! Ah! Were do you get your information? Airlines staff minimum crew across the board all the time, because lord knows we can’t leave any luggage behind.

  12. Please Ben, tell me what airline staffs their FA crew above minimum? I don’t know of any in the US. The only time we are staffed above minimum is for international flights. Domestics are never above minimum.

    And thanks for minimizing the job of an FA. Pilots push a few buttons to get the plane to go. FAs are there in case there’s a fire on board, you have a heart attack, someone gropes you, someone tries to start a fight with you, prepares you to evacuate if the pilots can’t land without tearing up the plane. Please don’t minimize what we do. We have to be just as alert as a pilot, if not moreso.

  13. What about requiring that pilots simply never drink alcohol. The drug-free rule is applied for other drugs, and alcohol is arguably a worse drug than some others already excluded. It’s only social inertia and marketing by the alcohol industry that’s got humanity clinging onto the delusion that alcohol consumption as acceptable anyway. I see it is kind of a neanderthal habit.

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