Drinking in the Cockpit

by Capt. David O. Hill

Twice in my career I remember drinking, while in uniform, and in the cockpit. First was in a British Airways jet that had just blocked in at London Heathrow. As was the custom at British Airways at the time, as soon as the engines were shut down on the final duty leg, the flight attendant came into the cockpit, where I had been a jump-seater, and took drink orders from the front crew, this even before the passengers had disembarked. BA served drinks from full-size bottles, and what was left over was fair game for the crew at final block-in. This was done openly, and apparently with company approval. The second time was on one of the strangest and most memorable trips in my Seaboard career. I was copilot on a DC-8 mercy mission charter to Sabha, Libya. We were the first four-engine jet to ever land there, and we were greeted with much fanfare. Since there was no suitable equipment available to unload the airplane, we were told that it would have to be done by hand, and that it would take several hours. To get us out of the hot sun, and to kill time, we were invited into the city and taken to lunch. The captain, Dick Hamm, and I accepted the offer; the flight engineer elected to stay with the airplane.

We were taken to a lovely restaurant, and treated to a sumptuous lunch replete with all the things travelers are warned against eating in Third World countries: bountiful salad, lots of uncooked vegetables, cold meats and of course, water and ice cubes. Dick and I looked at each other before diving in with 'what else can we do' expressions on our faces knowing that to reject any of it would insult our hosts who were going to extraordinary lengths to please us. We took for granted that a bad case of diarrhea would be the price for this delicious feast. Naturally, being in a Muslim country, no alcohol was seen or served.

We were joyful as we were driven back to the airport, proud of ourselves for being so adventuresome, and pleased to hear the prediction from locals that Muammar Gaddafi, who had just recently come to power, was a nut case, and wouldn't last a year. And no intestinal discomfort so far! All went smoothly with our departure back to FRA, and shortly after top-of-climb the F/E reported that we had been amply catered, in amongst which was a six-pack of cold beer. Imagine!!! Shades of Air France, but without the wine glasses. What to do? After some discussion about the length of flight, the consumption of food, what to do with the empty cans upon landing, etc., Captain Adventure and I both decided to have a beer each. The F/E again declined. I remember the naughty thrill that accompanied drinking a beer, in broad daylight, six miles up, while on duty and in uniform. Well worth what I took to be very low risk. It was great, and I'd do it again. And by the way, neither of us ever got sick from the lunch.

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