Drunk flight attendant passes out on plane, doesn’t know what city she is in, cops say

The flight attendant on a morning trip from Chicago to South Bend, Indiana, was intoxicated and didn’t know what city she had landed in when officers escorted her away, prosecutors say.

Airport police officers learned the flight attendant was either drunk or having a “medical issue” after the United Express airplane departed O’Hare International Airport on Aug. 2, according to an arrest affidavit.

Passenger Aaron Scherb tweeted at United Airlines while on the flight, saying he and others recognized her impairment.

Scherb told McClatchy newsgroup the flight attendant bumped seats and travelers, dropped things and slurred the safety announcement .

“After everyone boarded the flight and we were still parked at the gate, the flight attendant began the security announcement, which seemed very slurred,” Scherb told McClatchy in an email. “She stopped after about 10 seconds without finishing.”

While the plane taxied to the runway, the flight attendant took her seat and appeared to “pass out” or fall asleep, Scherb said.

A video taken by Scherb shows the flight attendant become “briefly alert” when pilots called on the internal telephone, which she didn’t answer, he said.

When the plane landed, airport police officers and United Airlines employees boarded the airplane and met with the flight attendant, prosecutors say. A few of the passengers said they were “scared for their lives,” according to the arrest affidavit.

When police at South Bend International airport asked the flight attendant where she was, she answered “Chicago,” prosecutors said.

Once in a private airport office, officers evaluated the flight attendant for medical issues but found none, prosecutors said. Instead, they noticed she had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor balance and the smell of alcohol on her breath, according to the affidavit.

While on the way to jail, the flight attendant told an officer that she drank two vodka “shooters” before work that morning, according to the affidavit. A breath test later showed her blood-alcohol content level was .204, prosecutors said.

Julianne March, 49, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was charged with public intoxication on Thursday, according to the affidavit. She could serve up to six months in jail, a spokeswoman for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office said.

“(She) was found in a public place or a place of public resort — specifically, a commercial airplane — in a state of intoxication caused by the person’s use of alcohol or a controlled substance,” the affidavit states. “(She) endangered the life of another person...the passengers on the flight.”

The flight was operated by an Air Wisconsin crew, an airliner that partners with United Airlines for United Express flights, a spokesman for United said. The spokesman referred McClatchy to Air Wisconsin for comment.

Air Wisconsin said Thursday that the flight attendant is “no longer an employee of the company.”

“We will continue to cooperate with local authorities and assist them as necessary,” an Air Wisconsin spokesperson said in an email.

Scherb said United Airlines offered him a $500 voucher or 25,000 miles, in addition to a refund for the flight. But Scherb hasn’t yet accepted the offer, he said.

“Given that the safety and well-being of all 50 passengers on that flight was jeopardized, I find United’s response to be insufficient,” Scherb said, explaining that another would-be passenger appeared to have received a $1,200 voucher because the flight was overbooked.

However, Scherb said he doesn’t want the flight attendant to be terminated by the airline.

“I hope this flight attendant is not fired,” Scherb said Wednesday in the email. “I would hope that United Airlines and Air Wisconsin...treat this person as an employee, not as an expendable commodity, and that they will help her get treatment for addiction, if that’s in fact what she suffers from.”

But he also believes airlines should consider a zero-tolerance policy for flight attendants to ensure safety.

“Given the significant safety and security roles that flight attendants have, United (and other airlines) should consider adopting zero tolerance policies for flight attendants going forward,” Scherb said.

This isn’t the first report this week of intoxicated crew members on United flights.

On Saturday, two United pilots were arrested on the suspicion that they were intoxicated as they were set to pilot a flight from Scotland to New Jersey, the Associated Press reported. One was charged for being over the legal alcohol limit. The other was released without being charged, according to the news outlet.

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Chacour Koop is a Real-Time reporter based in Kansas City. Previously, he reported for the Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News and Daily Herald in Chicago.