What should airline passengers do if a pilot acts bizarrely?

United Airlines
A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

When a pilot on a United Airlines flight from Austin to San Francisco launched into a bizarre rant last week over the plane intercom, the 120 passengers in the cabin were put in the awkward position of looking after their own safety.

The pilot, who rambled on about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and her own divorce, was ultimately replaced on the flight and United Airlines apologized to the passengers — but not until several passengers got up and demanded to be let off the plane.

The pilot, who has not been identified, has been relieved of her flying duties, United Airlines spokesman Charles Hobart said.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots be clear of personality or mental disorders. However, the FAA does not have any regulations addressing what to do if a pilot or copilot appears to be mentally incapable of flying a plane. Instead, the agency leaves it up to the airlines to come up with a procedure for such a situation.


As for the passengers, Hobart and FAA officials say travelers who fear their pilot is acting strangely or worry that their safety is in jeopardy should immediately contact a crew member.

In the case of the flight from Austin to San Francisco, United Airlines placed passengers who got off onto another flight, with no charge for rebooking. 

“If there is a reasonable concern for their safety, we will work with them,” Hobart said of passengers who want to get off a plane before takeoff.


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