The Bell Curve: A flight gone awry

August 11, 2010|By Joseph N. Bell

First off, let's deal with the bias.

For the past two weeks, you may have been following the adventures of a lady named Cynthia Angel, who got bumped from a Delta Air Lines flight for disputed reasons that have turned into one of those lingering stories that especially captivate consumers who have run afoul of the system. One thing that isn't in dispute is Cindy Angel's anger at her treatment. She's mad as hell.

She's also my sister-in-law.

Let's look at the facts that aren't in dispute. Cindy was on her way to her home in North Hollywood when all this got started. She had been visiting her son, Matthew, in Atlanta, where he was plying his actor's trade in a film underway there. On July 19, about 10 p.m., his mother was waiting in line to board her flight to Los Angeles, which had been scheduled to take off some two hours earlier.


As she stood in the entrance to the plane with three other passengers, a man they took to be one of their pilots squeezed by on his way from the cockpit.

The passenger who was last in line leaned forward and said, "Did you smell that?"

The woman behind Cindy echoed "smells like straight vodka."

Cindy — who knew full well that vodka is odorless — had indeed smelled something she deemed alcoholic, and the man in front of the little group of passengers concurred.

So the first woman said, "What do we do?"

And when Cindy said, "We should call it to someone's attention," and got no takers, she spotted the head flight attendant in the first-class galley.

Cindy went up to her and said: "I don't know what the protocol is, but three other passengers and I think we smelled alcohol on the pilot's breath."

The flight attendant dropped what she was doing and said something to the other pilot, who was seated in the cockpit. He then asked Cindy to step inside and closed the door behind her.

She remembers saying exactly what she had told the flight attendant.

"I was very nervous," Cindy related. "I wasn't accusing anyone. It was at this time just an observation."

The co-pilot responded that he had been with the captain for the past five hours and the captain had not been not drinking.

To which Cindy, greatly relieved, replied, "Great, I was just making sure," just before returning to her seat in Row 39. On the way there, feeling very much alone, Cindy looked for the other three passengers in her little group. She couldn't find the two men on the crowded plane, and the third avoided eye contact with her as she passed down the aisle.

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