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Worst Passenger of the Week

Worst Passenger of the Week: Airline Insiders Behaving Badly

Worst Passenger of the Week: Airline Insiders Behaving Badly
Jeff Edwards

Every Friday, FlyerTalk looks back at the week’s most charming individuals. While there are always plenty of contenders for our Worst Passenger of the Week award, only one lucky flyer can take home the glory. Here are this week’s winners.

Honorable Mention – The Real Reason United is Stingy with Meal Vouchers

A typical meal voucher from an airline doesn’t go very far at an airport Applebee’s, but a former United Airlines employee found a crafty (and highly unethical) way to turn vouchers into real cash. This week, however, he learned that his scheme will cost him 33 months in federal prison.

According to court records, Ollantay Corujo used his old uniform and expired identification to gain access to United Airlines computers at airports around the U.S. for the purpose of printing meal vouchers. The former employee would then redeem the vouchers for cash through a company he set up primarily to appear to be an airport food vendor. The scam reportedly netted Corujo more than a half-million dollars in ill-gotten gains over several years.

The traveling con artist wasn’t caught because a company auditor noticed that hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent meal vouchers were being regularly redeemed by one company owned by a disgruntled employee. Instead, Corujo was busted by airport police at General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) who challenged whether he belonged behind the ticket counter. Only later did officials uncovered the scale of the criminal enterprise in progress.

The next time a guest services agent hesitates or resists handing over a piece of paper good for a free sandwich from the reach-in cooler, keep in mind that a passenger who doesn’t even work for the airline was able to print thousands and thousands of vouchers for years without anyone even noticing. On the other hand, during the years Corujo was running his grift, that same harried customer service agent likely got a daily email from headquarters bemoaning the number of vouchers being handed out each day.

Third Place – Flight Canceled After Pistol-Packing Pilot Arrested

The Sun Country Airlines Captain arrested at Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) this week probably should have known better or at the very least, he should have completed a much more thorough checklist before heading to the airport. Instead, the pilot was forced to plead “forgetfulness” when a TSA screener spotted a loaded gun in his carry-on bag at a security checkpoint.

The aviator, on his way to take the controls of a passenger jet scheduled to depart for Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), was obviously not a hijacking risk, but when law enforcement arrived at the scene, it was revealed that the captain’s concealed weapons permit issued in Minnesota was not valid in Florida. Brian Andrew Machtemes soon found himself under arrest on firearms charges rather than on his way home. Unfortunately, because the 54-year-old was the only Sun Country Airlines pilot available at the airport at that time, the flight was delayed until the following morning and passengers spent an extra night in South Florida courtesy of the forgetful pilot.

“I can confirm he is a pilot for Sun Country,” airline spokesperson Kirsten Wenker told the News-Press. “In the interest of respecting the privacy of and preserving the trust of all our employees, we do not comment or confirm details related to individual employee conduct or work performance.”

The Runner-up – Besotted Bag Handler Takes a Long Lunch

An American Airlines baggage handler picked the wrong time and the wrong place to sleep off his hangover this week. The Kansas City International Airport (MCI) ramp worker decided to grab a quick nap in the cargo hold of a Boeing 737 which was preparing to depart for Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). When he woke from his slumber, he slowly realized that he was not in Kansas City any more.

The well-traveled worker reportedly told police he “was intoxicated and fell asleep.” The stowaway employee was not discovered until the plane arrived at its destination just over one-and-a-half hours after departing MCI. Fortunately, the baggage handler was none-the-worse for his adventure and declined medical treatment upon arrival.

According to the airline, the baggage compartment which accommodated the slacking employee during his unplanned journey is pressurized as well as heated. American Airlines officials say the 23-year-old was immediately suspended from his duties (which apparently include arriving drunk and sleeping on the job).

“The American team is very concerned about this serious situation,” a company spokesperson told reporters. “We are reviewing what transpired with our Piedmont and Kansas City colleagues … We are grateful that he did not sustain any injuries.”

The Winner – Pie-eyed Pilot Ten Times the Legal Limit

Japan Airlines first officer preparing to take off from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) was arrested after allegedly failing a breathalyzer test. The co-pilot, who has already admitted to be being intoxicated on the flight deck, reportedly tested at nearly ten times the legal BAC limit.

Katsutoshi Jitsukawa pled guilty on Thursday after he was found to have a BAC of 189mg, just 50 minutes prior to his scheduled departure on Sunday (the legal limit for a pilot is 20mg). The disgraced pilot was set to crew a JAL Boeing 777 to Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) prior to being taken into custody.

“Safety remains our utmost priority,” airline officials said in a statement. “We will implement immediate actions to prevent any future occurrence and to regain our customer’s trust.”

The carrier has had a run of bad luck when it comes to tippling employees embarrassing the company in recent months. In May, a JAL flight attendant was accused of sneaking a beer into the lavatory and downing it during a flight.

“We will use all possible means to ensure flight safety,” Japan’s Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said in a hastily called press conference on Friday announcing a planned crackdown on flight and cabin crews.

The only hero in this story may be the shuttle bus driver who reported the 42-year-old co-pilot to authorities after noticing alcohol on his breath and suspecting that he might be impaired. Police say Jitsukawa admitted to putting back two bottles of wine and the equivalent of five cans of beer before heading to the airport.

The co-pilot may have thought his indiscretion would go unnoticed because it does not appear he would be expected to play an especially critical role in the cockpit. After a more than hour-long delay, the flight departed without the airline even bothering to replace the tipsy pilot on the flight deck. Instead, the plane took off with only two pilots in the cockpit rather than the scheduled three.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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