DUI in the Sky

While more and more airplane passengers are witnessing bad behavior on flights, most people would still be surprised to see their pilot get escorted off a plane by airport police. For some passengers headed to Florida from New York on March 2, 2022, they witnessed the odd sight.

Their pilot was escorted off the plane for being under the influence of alcohol.

Pulled from the Plane Before Take Off

An early morning flight leaving Buffalo, New York, heading to Ft. Laduerdale, Florida, was delayed when the pilot needed to be removed.

Just before take-off, airport police officers brought a portable breathalyzer test into the cockpit and asked the pilot to take the test.

According to a statement from Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), there was reason to believe the pilot was under the influence. While the pilot was going through security, “a TSA officer noticed that he may have been impaired.” The agent notified NFTA authorities who approached the pilot and gave him a breathalyzer.

The result revealed that the pilot had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.17.  

In New York, the legal BAC for driving is 0.08. The pilot was more than double the legal driving BAC limit of the state. But, pilots do not abide by state laws for driving under the influence. They have their own set of standards for alcohol.

Federal regulations say that pilots are not allowed to fly planes if they have a BAC of 0.04 or higher. Pilots are also prohibited from having consumed alcohol within the eight hours leading up to a flight.

Upon the results of the breathalyzer, the pilot, James Clifton, 52 of Orlando, was immediately removed from the plane and taken into custody by NFTA police.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Did the Pilot Break the Law?

Clifton has not delivered a statement about the incident, although according to TSA spokeswoman Helen Tederous, Clifton told authorities he had between seven and eight drinks the night before the early morning flight, as reported by PEOPLE.

Clifton had a BAC over the legal limit for pilots. He is said to have had drinks the night before the morning flight, but it has not been determined if it was eight hours before the flight. According to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, Clifton’s co-pilot said he had dinner with Clifton the night before the flight. Clifton remained at the restaurant after his co-pilot left.

NFTA removed Clifton from the plane, notified the federal authorities, and released him to JetBlue security personnel.

The airplane took off four hours later with a new pilot.

Related: What to Expect From a First Offense DUI

What Will Happen to the Pilot?

In a statement, Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue spokesperson said, “The safety of JetBlue’s customers and crewmembers is our first priority. We adhere to all DOT rules and requirements concerning alcohol at all times and have a very strict zero tolerance internal alcohol policy.”

“We are aware of the incident that occurred in Buffalo Wednesday and are cooperating fully with law enforcement. We are also conducting our own internal investigation. The crew member involved has been removed from his duties,” the spokesperson continued.

In addition to being the subject of JetBlue’s investigation, Clifton will also be investigated by federal authorities.

TSA spokesperson Tederous said Clifton may face federal charges.

While it’s unclear at this time what charges Clifton may face, there could be a DUI equivalent. There could be other charges related to recklessness or endangerment or even potentially crimes related to attempt.

In 2002, two pilots faced serious consequences after they were stopped just minutes before taking off from Miami International Airport and found to have BAC levels over 0.08.

The men were charged with operating an aircraft under the influence and operating a motor vehicle under the influence. Three years later, both men lost their commercial pilot licenses. One man was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison and the other to 5 years in prison, as reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Talk to a DUI Attorney Today

No matter what type of vehicle you’re driving, getting a DUI is a serious matter.

If you have been arrested for a DUI, it’s important to talk to a DUI attorney right away. If you need advice after a DUI or a DUID, talk to attorney TJ Grimaldi today. Schedule your consultation or call 813-226-1023.

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