Drunk Delta Air Lines Pilot Carrying Jägermeister in Luggage Jailed for 10 Months

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Andrew Kelly/Reuters

A court in Scotland sentenced an American pilot to 10 months in jail Tuesday after he attempted to captain a transatlantic Delta Air Lines flight to New York while drunk last year.

Lawrence Russell Jr., 63, pleaded guilty to reporting for duty as a pilot while impaired through alcohol for a flight from Edinburgh International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 16, 2023. A blood test showed that Russell was almost two and a half times over the limit when he arrived to take control of the Boeing 767 aircraft.

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In sentencing, Sheriff Alison Stirling (a “sheriff” is a type of judge in the Scottish judicial system) said Russell had turned up at the airport in Edinburgh on the morning of the flight wearing his pilot’s uniform and a Delta lanyard. Russell’s bag was rejected when it went through X-ray screening due to the amount of liquids inside.

“Your bag was found to contain two bottles of Jägermeister, one of which was open and was just under half full,” Stirling said. “Because you were wearing a pilot’s uniform, police were contacted.”

Russell told police he’d been drinking the previous evening but he had not consumed any alcohol recently, Stirling said, but he then failed a breath test. After being arrested, Russell then consented to a blood test, which showed that he had not less than 49 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood—the legal limit is 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

He was given a police caution and charge later in the day. Stirling said Russell told officers he understood the caution and charge, adding: “I’m terrified.” He pleaded guilty during a court appearance earlier this month.

Russell’s defense attorney Pamela Rogers previously gave the court a medical report concerning a treatment that Russell had for alcoholism. She also said her client was “under no illusion” about the seriousness of his crime, according to The Sun.

In imposing the jail sentence, Stirling noted that Russell’s offense “showed a high level of culpability, and a high potential for serious harm to have been done.” “In particular you were to be the captain on that flight, you had a half full bottle of Jägermeister with you, and the flight had to be canceled,” she said.

“Lawrence Russell’s conduct would have endangered many lives; the consequences could have been catastrophic,” prosecutor Lynne Barrie said. “He showed a reckless disregard for the safety of his passengers and crew.” Barrie added that commercial aircraft pilots are responsible for the lives of hundreds of people. “He would have put all of them at serious risk,” Barrie said.

At the time of Russell’s arrest, Delta apologized to customers for the flight’s cancelation and said it was supporting passengers with their travel plans. The carrier also told the New York Post that its alcohol policy is among the strictest in the industry and we have no tolerance for violation.”

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