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A traveler tried a bad joke with the pilot: Why that question could get people in trouble

When it comes to air travel, some jokes land better than others.

TikTok user @jamiedegeorge5 posted a video this week in which he appears to ask a Southwest Airlines pilot whether he has been drinking as they pass one another on a jet bridge. The pilot gets visibly upset, and the traveler defends the remark, saying, “Oh my god, (have) you ever heard of a joke? I’m a comedian.”

“You don’t do that, OK? And the reason being you don’t do it (is) because that gentleman right there and anybody else who was around now doubts what I do for a living,” the pilot said in the clip, pointing to someone else off camera, and the flyer apologizes.

The video, which was tagged at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, has amassed more than 192,000 views as of Friday.

"As an airline responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people every day, we take safety very seriously, and our crewmember's response aligns with that tenet," Southwest said in an emailed statement. "We are accountable for the comfort and confidence of every passenger that boards our aircraft and while we always strive for an environment of mutual respect, we support our pilot's assertion that an accusation of compromised safety is not a joking matter." The TikTok user did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’S request for an interview.

Even in the guise of comedy, that kind of accusation should not be made lightly.

“Accusing a pilot of drinking before a flight is an incredibly serious charge — akin to joking about a bomb on the plane,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Going, formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights.

What happens if an airline pilot is drunk?

A pilot who is found to be intoxicated could be fired, lose their pilot’s license and face legal action, Keyes told USA TODAY in an email. 

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits pilots from working a flight if they have an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or higher in a blood or breath specimen, and if they have consumed alcohol within eight hours of duty or on the job. “A more conservative approach is to wait 24 hours from the last use of alcohol before flying,” a pilot safety brochure on the FAA’s website reads.

A United Airlines pilot’s license was suspended after he showed up drunk for a flight last month. He also reportedly faced a six month suspended prison sentence and a fine.

How often do pilots come to work drunk?

Keyes said those kinds of incidents are “rare but not unheard of,” with at least a few reports each year of intoxicated pilots being kept from flying. Airlines also have programs to encourage pilots to voluntarily get treatment in cases of alcoholism, he added.

Flying is safe, he said, in part “because of stringent safety standards put in place by the FAA, including strict rules to prevent even the possibility in passengers' minds that their pilot may be drunk.”

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at

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