Sometimes it takes less than 5 seconds to tell a person’s profession. Something just gives them away. For pianists it is their fingers, for ballet dancers - their slim bodies. Pilots, on the other hand, are simply “radiating” confidence.

Infamous for arrogance

As every profession is riddled with stereotypes, when it comes to pilots, there is definitely a certain level of arrogance that is expected from them beforehand. The image of pilots, or to be more precise, the way they are perceived by society is quite often associated with several personality traits that most people consider them having, the dominant trait surely being arrogance.


Arrogance is a quality for which quite a number of pilots are infamous. Moreover, flights cancelled due to drugs, alcohol, assault, aggression and simply bad mood are only the tip of the “arrogance iceberg”.

Too drunk to fly?

Despite the fact that alcohol abuse among pilots is quite rare, the “pilots drinking problem” is especially well-known by the public as it always makes the headlines. Basically, every month there is at least one “drunk pilot arrested” circulating in the news.

In August of 2016 alone at the very least two pilots were “impaired through alcohol”. An Air India pilot failed an alcohol test after he had landed an international flight. And a SriLankan Airlines pilot failed an alcohol test in Frankfurt moments before he was supposed to take off with 274 passengers and crew on board.

However, even though alcohol affects every layer of society, the consequences differ depending on the individual. Just imagine, what is the worst that could possibly happen, if a teacher was a bit tipsy during class? Worst case scenario: he would simply lose his job. Things can get more serious if you imagine a doctor, as his actions might accidentally kill someone. However, the disturbing truth is that when you imagine a pilot, his mistake might cost everyone on board their lives, including the pilot himself.

Unfortunately, hundreds of pilots around the world test positive for alcohol before or after flights every year. Moreover, as pilots are subjected to testing randomly, the actual numbers might be even higher. Only in India alone more than 100 pilots failed blood-alcohol tests over the last three years.

Considering the fact that the damages caused by the pilots’ consumption of alcohol could actually be very drastic, a question arises: why risk that much?

Aviation attracts the arrogant

As it has been already mentioned, the dominant personality trait of the majority of pilots is arrogance. A number of studies have proven that aviation attracts individuals who contain a higher level of arrogance. In 2004, a NASA study with quite a diverse sample confirmed that “pilot personality” in fact does exist. Moreover, it indicated that the pilot profession does attract a certain type of people, who are emotionally stable, trusting, straightforward and conscientious, low in anxiety, vulnerability, angry hostility, impulsiveness, and depression, however high in deliberation, achievement-striving, dutifulness, competence and have an especially high level of confidence that might actually result in quite arrogant behavior.

Of course, not every single pilot possesses all of these personality traits; moreover, these features might vary depending on age or experience, they might also develop or cease to exist while undergoing training. However, most pilots do share common interests and tend to fall under a certain personality type, which has assertiveness as its main feature. Pilots require it in order to handle responsibility; they need to be absolutely confident with their decisions, especially in an emergency situation, as they do not have time for doubt.

However, the pilots who successfully stay in the aviation industry learn to keep it humble. “Humble” arrogance definitely improves the quality of their work and ensures the safety of everyone on board, as it strengthens their sense of responsibility.


Too much arrogance can have serious consequences

Sometimes arrogance simply crosses the line. The overconfident behavior of some pilots could not only allow them to neglect the rules and, for example, consume alcohol, it could also result in a number of other serious safety concerns.

Over the past years air rage has became a serious issue. Moreover, according to statistics, the number of such incidents is soaring. Headlines such as “Pilot arrested for assaulting ground staff”, “Pilot accused of assaulting co-worker” or “Pilot arrested for assaulting a police officer” no longer seem surprising.

Some studies suggest that a significant part of pilots have a hard time at taking criticism as they are very competitive, but also have extremely low tolerance towards personal imperfections. However, they tend to modify their environment rather than changing their behavior. For this reason, some pilots allow themselves to act quite disrespectful towards their colleagues.

In 2011, a Southwest Airlines pilot complained to the first officer in the cockpit about the flight attendants on board as he was not satisfied with their appearance. Moreover, he referred to them as a “continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes”. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to turn off the microphone, and this incident came to light.


Moderation in all things

As the saying goes, everything is good in moderation, “humble” arrogance might have a positive effect on pilots’ work, while excessive arrogance will most probably have a negative impact and might even raise safety concerns. However, at the end of the day, arrogance is just a side-effect of confidence, which is crucial in the aviation world. Trying to get rid of it is futile, but having in under control is essential.

Luckily, some actions are actually being implemented. On August 15, EASA published a set of proposals to the European Commission for an update of the rules concerning pilots’ medical fitness. The new rules will give special attention to drug and alcohol screening, as well as to comprehensive mental health assessment. Therefore, if the proposals are accepted, more attention will be devoted to pilots’ mental conditions and there is hope, that constant monitoring will actually help to reduce the issues of pilot exceeded arrogance to a “healthy” level and it will no longer threaten the safety on board.