Friday, July 22, 2005

Southwest fires pilots for takeoff — of their uniforms
By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Southwest Airlines has fired two pilots for allegedly turning their cockpit into a clothing-optional playpen.
The pilot and co-pilot — both men — were dismissed for allegedly taking off all or most of their clothes in the cockpit of their aircraft.
"Southwest Airlines conducted a thorough investigation and terminated the two pilots involved for inappropriate conduct," says spokeswoman Ginger Hardage, who would not elaborate. Southwest "will not tolerate any inappropriate or offensive behavior."
Cockpit shenanigans seem to be on the rise, even as pilots and passengers face the stresses of air terror fears. America West fired a pair of pilots last year for being under the influence of alcohol in the cockpit after running up a $142 tab at a Miami bar the night before. And a Northwest Airlines pilot was arrested in January, after a loaded gun was found in his carry-on.
The Southwest dismissals occurred earlier this month for an incident that happened months ago. The names of the pilots involved were not disclosed.
The president of Southwest's pilots association, Capt. Ike Eichelkraut, would say only, "It's an internal matter."
The pilots involved are appealing their termination, sources say. They contend that one of them removed his uniform after coffee was spilled. A flight attendant saw them after being summoned to the cockpit to bring paper towels and soda water.
Southwest is treating the episode as a prank that went too far.
While the incident occurred on a Boeing 737 in flight, there's no implication that safety was breeched. And a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman says there's no specific prohibition against flying naked.
"I'm not aware there are any regulations on the type of clothing, so there's most likely none on (wearing) no clothing at all," spokesman Les Dorr says. There are rules against behavior that distracts crewmembers during vital phases of flight, which is just about anything below 10,000 feet, Dorr notes.
Southwest is famous for being offbeat. When the airline started flying in 1971, flight attendants wore hot pants and were chosen for sex appeal. Founder Herb Kelleher, dubbed the "high priest of Ha Ha" by Fortune magazine, unabashedly said the airline looked for "attitudes; people with a sense of humor who don't take themselves too seriously."
To this day, Southwest often makes funny in-flight announcements, sometimes even in song. Kelleher, who has publicly dressed as Elvis, once arm-wrestled the head of another company for the rights to a slogan.
He lost and was ceremoniously carried from the ring on a stretcher while sipping shots of Wild Turkey


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