United Airlines Pilot Grounded on Suspicion of Being Drunk Shortly Before Takeoff

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) Yet another U.S. pilot has been found behaving badly, and this time authorities did something about it before the plane took off.

A United Airlines pilot was pulled from a plane and arrested shortly before takeoff after a co-worker suspected him of being drunk, police and airline officials said Tuesday.

Scotland Yard said the 51-year-old was arrested after officers were called aboard United Airlines Flight 949, due to fly from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago, around noon on Monday. A spokesman for the police force said officers arrested the man "on suspicion of... exceeding the prescribed alcohol limit."

Britain's Press Association news agency gave a slightly different version of events, saying the pilot was called from the plane and given a breathalyzer test out of view of the passengers before being arrested.

The Press Association quoted a spokesman for Heathrow Airport operator BAA as saying that United's staff reported the pilot to police and that the flight's departure had been imminent.

The Scotland Yard spokesman said the pilot, whom he did not identify, has been released on bail.

United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said the pilot had been removed from service pending an investigation. She said her airline had strict rules on alcohol "and we have no tolerance for violation of this well-established policy."

She also declined to identify the pilot or say how long he had worked for the airline. She added that the flight was canceled and that the plane's 124 passengers were put on other flights.

Monday's incident bears a strong resemblance to the arrest in May at Heathrow of an American Airlines pilot - also scheduled to fly a plane to Chicago - after he failed a breath test. Airport security staff had alerted airport police about the pilot.

In January, Southwest Airlines put a pilot on leave after passengers at a security checkpoint in Columbus, Ohio, told authorities that he smelled of alcohol. The pilot ran into a restroom and changed out of his uniform jacket and called in sick.

Two Northwestern Airlines pilots were reprimanded after an Oct. 21 flight during which they begame distracted and overshot the flight's Minneapolis destination by 150 miles.