Delta Pilot Gets 10 Months for Showing Up to Plane Drunk

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Mar 29, 2024

A Delta pilot has been sentenced to almost a year in prison after showing up to work in an intoxicated state.

The employee had a blood-alcohol level that was over twice the limit to fly and was carrying a half-empty bottle of Jägermeister in his carry-on. 

Delta Pilot Shows Up to Work Drunk

Every time a member of the public sets foot on a passenger plane, they trust the pilots and crew to safely guide them to their destination. 

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An image of a Delta passenger plane flying through the air

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However, according to The New York Times, Lawrence B. Russell Jr., a 63-year-old Delta pilot, breached this trust when he showed up to a routine shift still partially drunk from the night before. 

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Russell Scheduled to Fly From Edinburgh to New York

On the morning of June 16 last year, Russell was scheduled to sit in the cockpit of a passenger jet leaving from Edinburgh’s International Airport. 

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The Delta pilot was set to fly the Boeing 767 across the Atlantic to New York City’s Kennedy International Airport, per a statement released by the Judiciary of Scotland. However, upon arriving at the gate, problems began to arise for Russell.

Problems Begin to Arise for the Delta Pilot

When the pilot arrived at baggage control dressed in his Delta uniform, he expected the situation to go as usual. 

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But this was not the case. First, his bag was rejected after an X-ray machine flagged a bottle of liquor, per CNN

Half Open Bottle of Jägermeister in Delta Pilot’s Suitcase

When officials opened the pilot’s suitcase, they found several bottles of Jägermeister.

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A bottle of the German digestif Jägermeister is pictured on a kitchen countertop

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According to Sheriff Alison Stirling, who sentenced the Delta pilot in mid-March, one of the German digestif bottles was already open and “just under half full.”

Delta Pilot Admits to Drinking Evening Before

When asked about the contents of his luggage, the pilot admitted he had a few drinks the evening before.

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Officials at the airport then carried out a breath test, which Russel failed, leading to his arrest.

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Blood Test Reveals Delta Pilot Was Over Twice the Flying Limit

The reading of the Breathalyzer revealed that in 100 milliliters of blood, the Delta pilot had “not less than” 49 milligrams of alcohol, according to The New York Times.

An image of a Delta passenger jet preparing to take off

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As the pilots’ limit is 20 milligrams, Russell was well over twice the legal limit for flying. 

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Delta Pilot Charged and Sentenced

Following his arrest, Russel was charged later that day in June with attempting to fly a passenger jet under the influence. 

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According to a statement at the time, the Delta pilot was quoted as having said, “I’m terrified.”

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Not the Delta Pilot's First Time Caught Under the Influence

Russel was previously charged with driving under the influence back in 1985. 

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He was later released on probation. The future pilot was diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder but went on to complete a recovery program in Georgia and entered into remission. 

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Former Delta Pilot Sentenced to 10 Months in Prison

Russell pleaded guilty to his crimes on March 19 and was sentenced to 10 months in prison. 

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Once released, the former pilot hopes to apply for a new medical certificate, which would allow him to be reinstated as a Delta pilot, says Stirling. 

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Delta Air Lines Spokesperson Shares Thoughts on Drunk Pilot

Delta Air Lines spokesperson Anthony Black revealed in an email that the company was aware of the situation. 

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He said the company is “aware of this incident and removed the pilot from service while conducting a thorough investigation in coordination with Scottish authorities” (via The New York Times). However, he provided no further comments.

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Sheriff Feels Some Remorse for Delta Pilot

The Delta pilot pleaded guilty during the early stages of his case, a factor Sheriff Stirling considered when determining his sentence.

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However, she went on to say that “custody is the only appropriate disposal, having regard to the serious nature of your offending.”

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