Joke that could end pilot’s career
It was a reasonably harmless joke that in any other setting might raise a chuckle.
But during a commercial flight, a passenger's dad joke while visiting the cockpit with his young son sparked a pretty major incident that put the pilots' careers at massive risk.
The story arose during a recent discussion on Quora prompted by the question, "What should you never say to an airline pilot?"
Former international flight attendant David Roan, who worked at major American carrier Continental Airlines before it merged with United Airlines, relayed a story about a boy and his father who were allowed to pop into the cockpit while the flight was boarding.
"The kid was awe-struck and was asking questions to the pilots," Mr Roan said.
"The dad, jokingly, asked, 'None of you guys have been drinking, right?'"
The quip did not go down well at all, and sparked a major delay as the pilots went into damage control to clear any suggestion they had been drinking before the flight.
"What this father failed to understand is that pilots take those jokes very very seriously," Mr Roan explained.
"The captain immediately asked the kid and his father to take their seats and once they were gone he called his chief pilot and demanded an on-the-spot alcohol test for himself and his co-pilot to clear them to fly.
"Even though it was only a joke it was picked up by the recording devices in the cockpit and if something serious had happened (like an evacuation or a crash) that conversation would have been heard by investigators, possibly setting up the airline, and even the pilots themselves, to be sued into oblivion."
Mr Roan said the flight ended up being delayed by 45 minutes while the airline waited to find an available person to do the requested blood and alcohol testing of the pilots.
"To recap, no matter how funny you think you are DO NOT JOKE about pilots drinking before a flight," he said.
There are serious consequences for pilots who are found to be under the influence of alcohol on duty - as well as for their passengers and fellow crew.
In November, a pilot was sentenced to 10 months in prison after he showed up for a flight from London to Tokyo almost 10 times over the alcohol limit.
The Japan Airlines pilot was arrested at Heathrow Airport in October after the driver of an airline crew bus smelled alcohol.
In handing down his sentence to the pilot in a London court, the judge said the consequences could have been "catastrophic", adding: "the prospect of you taking over control of that aircraft is too appalling to contemplate".
The response to the joke about the pilots drinking is another example of the aviation industry taking extremely seriously comments - even attempts at humour - concerning safety and security issues.
Authorities frequently investigate incidents regarding bomb "jokes" at airports and on planes, including at Hobart Airport in December, when a woman was pulled off a Virgin Australia flight for joking about having an explosive device at the check-in desk.
The flight was delayed for an hour while police investigated the comments. The woman was charged with making a false threat and was bailed to face court in February.
It came after a man was fined $4600 for joking about a bomb on a Scoot flight - forcing it to return to Singapore - in October, another passenger was arrested for making a bomb joke at the international airport in Manila in September, a man was jailed for calling in a fake bomb threat at London's Gatwick Airport in August, and passengers suffered head wounds and broken bones while scrambling to escape a Lion Air plane on the tarmac at Borneo airport in May after a passenger said there was a bomb on board.