Ten pilots you DON’T want in your cockpit.

When it comes to making fun of airline employees, pilots are usually off limits. Screw with a flight attendant, and you may not get your drink, screw with the TSA, and you may end up missing your flight. But screwing around with a pilot just doesn’t feel right.

In the past couple of days, some pilots have shown that they really are human, and that they screw up just like the rest of us. So this justifies a lineup of some of the most stupid pilots out there.

1. Pilot drops his pants – asks checkpoint staff to “search this”

Look – we all hate the checkpoint, and I’m sure that pilots hate it even more, as they probably encounter more checkpoints than most of us ever will. But when security staff annoy you, pulling your pants and underpants down and demanding the staff “check this” is probably not a very good idea.

2. Whoops – missed the airport by 150 miles

This one will stay in our minds for quite some time. Two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles. Ignoring all radio contact and text messages from their dispatcher, these guys were “distracted” when they failed to notice they were miles away from their original destination.

As you can see in the photo above (which is the actual track from FlightAware.com), when they realized their error, they turned the plane around and headed back towards MSP. The two are now without a pilots license, and I personally wouldn’t even trust them to drive a bus, let alone a passenger jet.

3. He almost got away with what he got away with

Argentine pilot Juan Alberto Poch had a fantastic job – he flew for Dutch carrier Transavia, doing short flights all around Europe. He’d flown his whole life, and was taking his final flight in the pilots seat, one day before retirement.

This really was a dream job for him, because Mr. Poch had a bit of a sinister past. During the Argentine dirty war, he was responsible for flying planes over the ocean and dumping innocent people out the back door, in an attempt to make them disappear.

On his very last flight, officials arrested him and made preparations for deporting him back to Argentina where he’ll face charges of mass murder.

4. When in doubt, blame the strong German beer

American Airlines pilot Joseph Crites was caught by the breathalyzer at Heathrow airport right before he was scheduled to fly a plane to Chicago.

The test showed he was more than 4 times over the legal limit, and he was removed from the plane and arrested. Apparently, every single person in the world knows that German beer is good strong stuff. Except for Mr. Crites.

5. Drunken flight attendant sex does not end well

When charges against you include indecent exposure, open lewdness, public drunkenness, loitering and prowling at night and disorderly conduct you just know it had to have been one hell of a party. And when the party involves a drunk and naked pilot walking through the woods, you know it isn’t going to end well.

The pilot works/worked for Pinnacle airlines, and he claimed he had walked into the woods with a flight attendant for a little drunken sex. He was not on duty at the time, but the rules are very simple – 8 hours between bottle and throttle.

6. Passengers spot drunk pilot – demand a sober one

If your pilot sounds drunk when he makes his pre-flight announcement, I’d say it is pretty logical for you to demand a sober one.

Aeroflot does not really agree with this, and even though the passenger protests eventually forced authorities to seek a sober flight crew, the airline actually issued a statement claiming that being drunk up front isn’t much of an issue, because “the plane basically flies itself”.

7. Another pilot caught red handed

It takes a pretty dumb pilot to even consider flying when drunk, but it takes a special level of stupid to head to the airport when drunk, get caught, then jump into the bathroom to change into your regular clothes while calling your airline claiming you are sick. This all happened at Port Columbus airport back in January.

8. A stupid mistake with a very lucky ending

October 2009 was a bad month for Delta Airlines – first one of their Northwest planes missed the airport, then one of their own jets landed at Atlanta airport on the taxiway. Read that again – these pilots actually landed on a part of the airport where they could have potentially plowed right through another aircraft, or even an airport vehicle.

Apparently one of the crew members was ill, and in the confusion, they screwed up. Thankfully nobody was injured as the taxiway was empty at the time.

9. What is this airport thing you speak of?

I’m by no means a pilot, but I am pretty sure that one of the things on your checklist is actually knowing w
here you are heading when you throttle up the engines. Sadly, the pilot of a KLM flight back in 2007 failed that.

The plane was on its way to Shamshabad, the new airport for Hyderabad in India. Apparently nobody at the airline had told them about this new airport, and when air traffic controllers told them to head towards Shamshabad, they replied “what is Shamshabad?”.

The crew then decided it would be much easier to just divert to Mumbai, causing a 1500 mile diversion. In their defense, the airline is probably more to blame than the pilots, as they are responsible for issuing the “notam” alerting pilots to new airports, as well as updating flight computers and maps.

10. Potty mouth pilot thrown off his own plane

First class passengers on a Northwest Airlines flight were treated to quite a show when their pilot stepped aboard swearing away on his phone. His “F this, F that” tirade was enough for the passengers to demand a new pilot.

I’ve actually encountered something similar – I was flying Cathay Pacific “up front” when two deadheading pilots got on board and talked loudly behind me about the “f’ing airline management” and how they hated the company. I politely requested them to shut the hell up. When the purser asked about the incident, they were both removed from the plane.

Irony: NWA pilots land late because of scheduling discussion

The investigation into the overshooting Northwest Airlines flight continues. The National Transportation Safety Board has found that the pilots were distracted by conversations and the use of personal laptops when flying 150 miles past Minneapolis. One of the topics being bandied about was scheduling, though I suspect it didn’t involve the impact of a late arrival because of a missed airport.

According to the NTSB, “The pilots said there was a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from (air traffic controllers) even though both stated they heard conversation on the radio.” In the report generated by its investigation, the NTSB continued, “Both said they lost track of time.” Meanwhile air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers were trying to contact Flight 188 for more than an hour. Neither pilot realized something was amiss until they were asked about it by a flight attendant.

Delta was pretty quick to announce that the pilots were involved in activities not related to flying and that they could be fired for it. For now, the fliers are suspended pending the results of the government’s investigation (and one by the airline itself).

NWA pilot: lots of misinformation, but can’t talk about it

All eyes are on the Northwest Airlines crew that missed Minneapolis by 150 miles. Rumors abound, such as dozing and arguments in the cockpit. Richard Cole, a crewmember on Northwest Flight 188, wouldn’t talk, except to say that it wasn’t his fault: “But other than that, I cannot tell you anything that went on because we’re having hearings this weekend, we’re having hearings on Tuesday. All that information will come out then.”

The flight had 144 passengers and five crewmembers and left San Diego for Minneapolis. At one point in the trip, there were 78 minutes of radio silence, and when the air traffic controllers reconnected with the crew, it had overshot the airport by 150 miles. The police who met the plane said the pilots were “cooperative, apologetic and appreciative.”

Northwest pilots fly plane miles past airport where plane was supposed to land

Missing a highway exit, thus driving well past it and needing to turn around may be common, particularly if a driver is feeling spaced out and road hashed. Missing an airport, thus flying past it, is unusual. Even so, it happened this past Wednesday. A Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 overshot Minneapolis where it was heading.

Luckily, the plane only went 150 miles further before the pilots realized their mistake and turned around. I guess they must have missed the fact the landscape below had turned from rural to suburban to urban. Minneapolis does have impressive architecture and it’s not small. How do you not notice a city?

Overshooting Minneapolis wasn’t the pilots only mistake. They didn’t contact radio controllers for over an hour. Because of this, the Air National Guard was alerted to be on stand-by and airport police met the plane when it landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport. Police involvement is standard procedure when there is a communication failure.

As an explanation for the big whoops!, the pilots said they were distracted by a heated discussion they were having about airline policy. That must have been some discussion.

There is a possibility that the pilots may have been suffering from pilot fatigue which caused these errors. They could have been taking a snooze. Whether it was fatigue or a heated discussion, the pilots are suspended from flying during the investigation.

As for the 144 passengers, they didn’t know anything was amiss until the police showed up.

I can imagine those people who had scrambled to get their bags out of the overhead bin before the seat belt sign went off thinking when they saw the police board the plane, “Wow, I won’t do that again. I promise I’ll keep my seat belt fastened and wait for that last ding. I swear I will.” [Bloomberg.com]

*The photo is of an aerial shot of Minneapolis. Along with the tall buildings, it seems like the water could be a nifty visual cue to keep in mind when flying to Minneapolis.

Delta announces new Elite Elite status, loyal passengers retch

It’s difficult making both parties happy during a merger, especially when the old dogs in one way of life have to learn all of the new tricks in another. Where this appears to be particularly scathing is in the frequent flyer programs, where loyal passengers to both Worldperks (Northwest) and Skymiles (Delta) are starting to get mashed together.

To appease some of the most frequent Skyteam travelers, the new Delta has revealed a new elite status above the traditional Silver (25k miles,) Gold (50k,) and Platinum (75k.) No, it’s not Berkelium, it’s Diamond, and one has to travel a whopping 125k miles to reach this holiest of statuses.

Benefits to Diamond status include free access to the Delta Sky Clubs (airport lounges,) better flexibiliy when using award tickets and a wider selection of “Choice Benefits” including upgrades and gift cards.

The problem for many current elites is that the benefits are too sparse for the time invested. Flexibility with award ticket redeposits, for example, is a feature that many Northwest passengers had before the airlines started to merge. Similarly, the mileage bonus on flights for a Diamond versus a Platinum (125% vs 100%) is just a throwback to the former NW Platinum level.

Upgrades are another great example. The upgrades currently earned by Platnium and Diamond members are only useable on the most expensive group of economy tickets (thumbnail: you’ll have to spend $1500 on a coach ticket to Europe to be able to upgrade.) Other programs sponsored by United and American Airlines let passengers upgrade some of the least expensive fares (say, around $700.)

As a result of the tepid benefits, more loyal passengers are straying away from the new merged airline. Or as one passenger at Flyertalk puts it:: “Delta: Driving Every Loyal Traveler Away.”