Court Backs Attendants' Concerns About Suicidal Pilot

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The Federal Court of Canada has backed flight attendants who refused to work a flight because they believed the pilot was suicidally depressed. It's not clear if the attendants, as part of the ruling, would have to tell passengers on the flight about their motivation to deplane. The court challenge arose when four Air Canada flight attendants in the summer of 2008 refused their assignments after one of them met the flight's pilot. The attendant, Hugh Bouchard, called in sick after the meeting and told another attendant the pilot had, on a previous flight, threatened to fly a plane into the Atlantic, according to the Montreal Gazette. Subsequent investigations found no support for that exact wording, but when the story was shared among the crew three other flight attendants (scheduled to work under Bouchard on the Toronto to Paris flight) also opted out. The airline found a backup crew and the flight went on without additional drama. Legal complications followed.

Advised of the situation on Aug. 24, 2008, Transport Canada had sent a federal health and safety officer to investigate. That official made a preliminary inquiry, but refused to launch a formal investigation based on information gathered during interviews with the flight attendants, operations manager and other character witnesses for the pilot. The official found Bouchard's precise claim was that the pilot had on a flight one month prior said, "If I lose my job, I have nothing to lose." (The pilot is still flying for Air Canada.) Transport Canada found no one other than the attendants who would speak critically of the pilot, the Montreal Gazette reported. Advised of Transport Canada's decision, the flight attendant's union appealed the findings to the Federal Court of Canada, which decided in favor of the attendants. The Canadian Press reports that Air Canada is not planning an appeal and that no disciplinary action has been taken. Under the Canada Labour Code, employees are protected from workplace danger.