SAS captain falls asleep at the controls…

The captain of an SAS plane flying between Copenhagen and Stockholm fell asleep last week, as the first officer was using the lavatory. Apparently the first officer had to “buzz” the cockpit several times after a bathroom break. The captain claims to have only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, and it was his fourth flight of the day.

The most interesting part of the story is no doubt this:

A manager at SAS told VG that, while having a pilot fall asleep midflight is unusual, the airline wasn’t planning to take any disciplinary measures against the pilot.

It’s “unusual?” Is that really all SAS has to say?!?

What did we learn? First of all, the first officer has a small bladder. This was less than an hour-long flight. Second of all, unlike with US airlines, there don’t always have to be two people in the cockpit (at US airlines a flight attendant goes into the cockpit when one of the pilots takes a bathroom break). Lastly, falling asleep at the controls in Scandinavia is (apparently) no big deal — not only did the captain admit to it when he could have probably come up with an elaborate excuse, but the company isn’t taking any disciplinary actions against him.

(Tip of the hat to Online Travel Review)


  1. I think the reason why they dont want to punish the captain is because they are the one who gave him the shxtty roster with little rest.

  2. C’mon, it’s obviously a pilots union stunt. The company isn’t going to discipline because it would then force the issue even more on hiring more pilots. No way would a pilot talk to the press if he really fell asleep like that. He talked to the press to highlight being overworked.

  3. No matter what the reason, if a pilot doesn’t believe he can stay awake or safely fly a plane he/she should resign. Obviously, very difficult to do, but the right thing to do.

    If he really didn’t fall asleep (Stimpy’s comment), well, that would be a relief (no pun intended).

    FA should be posted in cockpit, since single pilot could have heart attack or anything else during the bathroom break.

    Pilot’s bathroom break shouldn’t be an issue since, when you gotta go you gotta go. (God knows I’ve had it with UA pilots and they seat belt sign on for hour(s)).

  4. The small bladder line was stupid. Maybe the person had little or no time between a previous flight and this one, or wasn’t feeling well.

    Sleeping on the job is another issue. Maybe they need to ensure the pilots are alert and awake with some fake alarms. (Just kidding.)

  5. Is the 2 people in the cockpit a rule in the US? Whenever a member of the flight crew leaves the cockpit on AS, the flight attendants line up in the aisle like a defensive line waiting for a snap, but I don’t think I’ve seen them enter and close the door behind them.

  6. Whilst I agree that this should never ever happen, why should the company take disciplinary actions against him? This would be utterly useless and is almost always counterproductive. Assigning blame and punishment do not belong in a company with a good safety culture. These are issues for the lawyers, to determine the settlements, in the case something would have happened.
    Of course, the incident has to be investigated and measures have to be taken so that this will happen never again.

    By the way, are pilots allowed to take sleeping aids (not in the plane of course), e.g. Ambien? If not, are they tested for these?

  7. @ #5, Eric: I had the same question…I’ve never seen a FA actually enter the cockpit…instead, they just seem to “guard” the front lavatory area until the pilot returns to the cockpit.

  8. I’m not sure it’s a regulation for 2 people to be in the cockpit. I do remember hearing that in some a/c, the cockpit door cannot be opened while facing forward, so in order to ensure someone is always manning the controls, a FA steps in. The FA’s sole responsibility is to open the door when the pilot comes back, not keep the FO awake/entertained.

  9. @Eric, I’ve only seen the FA/Purser entering the cockpit on UA.. Perhaps it’s just a UA policy?

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