What An Airline Should Never Say To Calm Passengers Down

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4/02/2009 – What An Airline Should Never Say To Calm Passengers Down

This morning while reading the London Daily Mail I was reminded of an event that was initially reported on the 28th of December.   On the 28th of December 2008 Aeroflot (SU) Flight 315, flying from New York’s JFK (JFK) to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo (SVO) was delayed when Captain Alexander Cheplevsky started his pre-flight announcement with completely slurred speech, as Capt. Cheplevsky switched to English his speech continued to slur.

The passengers convinced Capt. Cheplevsky was intoxicated began complaining while the aircraft was at the gate. Passengers complained to the in-flight crew, word spread to the ground crew and passengers began calling Aeroflot’s headquarters. Eventually an Aeroflot representative boarded the flight to address the growing panic among passengers.

Once the Aeroflot representatives boarded the flight is when the real public relations nightmare began.  When there is a problem on board a flight an airline needs to comfort the passengers and assure then they are addressing the problem.    What happened on board SU-Flight 315 was the complete opposite of comforting to the passengers seating on-board the Boeing 767-300, waiting to depart for the 10-hour & 15-minute flight.

When representatives from Aeroflot began addressing the concerned passengers they advised them to “stop making trouble.” When passengers suggested the Captain be removed from the cockpit the airline told the passengers they had the option to stay on board for the flight or get off the plane.

As panic turned to a quasi-revolt of the passengers the Aeroflot Passenger Services Representative said the one thing an airline should never say to passengers, much less a plane load of passengers. In an effort to calm the passengers down this Aeroflot representative announced “It is not such a big deal. Really, all he has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself. The worst that could happen is he’ll trip over something in the cockpit.”

For future reference, this is NOT a good way to calm people down on a plane!

After three hours of arguing with Aeroflot’s’ flight crew and representatives, more than 100 passengers signed a statement stating they believed Capt. Cheplevsky was intoxicated and unfit to fly the aircraft.

Eventually Aeroflot called in a backup crew who were in New York, the plane took off without incident and Capt. Cheplevsky’s blood alcohol level was checked out.  Capt. Cheplevsky did not appear to have any alcohol in his system. Doctors believe Capt. Cheplevsky suffered a minor stroke during his pre-flight and was not aware that he had suffered a stroke.

While Aeroflot is conducting an internal investigation into Capt Cheplevsky’s refusal to give up his command of SU-Flight 315, they really should investigate how the situation was handled on the ground.

Airlines are not always known for great customer service, but the chain of events that lead to the removal of Capt. Cheplevsky are mind-boggling.

Happy Flying!


  1. Hello Steven,
    Thank you for the interesting article. I’m writing a PhD thesis on communicative behaviour of Russian pilots and flight attendants on international flights.
    I’d be happy if you shared your attitude towards Russian airlines. Have you ever travelled by Aeroflot or any other Russian aircompany? Did you enjoy your flight? What are the strong and weak points in the service they provided?
    Thank you.

  2. Hello.
    I have flown Aeroflot, Transaero, and the Ukrainian Aerosvit in the last 5 years. This story does not surprise me at all. I have not experienced anything quite this disruptive/unsettling, fortunately. Although when I flew with Aerosvit (Toronto to Kiev) I had a layover in Moscow (SVO) and then had a short flight to Kiev. The plane that we were on for the second leg was in obvious disrepair. There was a loose floor panel next to my seat that I was able to completely lift up, the bathroom facilities did not flush but no one used it beyond throwing up since the door did not latch. We boarded on the tarmac on a particularly hot day and proceeded to sit in the plane for over an hour with no air flow. When they started up the engines the plane shook so badly that they shut them down again. Three times. Then we were off, without a word of explanation. We made it there alive but it sure was nerve wracking considering the condition of the airplane.
    My last trip was with Transaero. Again from Toronto to Kiev by way of Russia. This time through Domodedovo. Plane was over an hour late arriving in Toronto, so we were really late departing. Flight was ok, but we circled Dom. for a very long time. When we landed and went to get our boarding passes for the connecting flight we were informed that while we were circling the connecting flight left. Stranded 29 passengers for 24 hours. Unfortunately for me, I was the only one of the 29 who didn’t speak Russian. I know a little bit but nowhere near enough to find out what was going on. And the employees were dead set against speaking english. Ended up having to buy a transit visa and the airline provided us accomodations for the night at a local convent. Yes a convent, nuns and all. I made it to my destination a day late, with no recompense from the airline. Ended up flying Aerosvit home. All in all I would much rather fly with a different airline but the price is right with these others. I have never encountered one Russian/Ukrainian airline employee that was particularly helpful or cheerful for that matter. I am fully aware that it is a completely different culture from us friendly Canadians, but it is also a public service position.
    Julia, I know it’s a little late, but if you want a layperson’s opinion feel free to contact me. melodyjhalliday@hotmail.com

  3. Hi, you should really look in to what is happening in
    Moscow “aeroflot” flight 315 and 316 in the past 3 days. people
    being left on the streets with out hotel and food for more that 48
    hours. no information available, any time people get frustrated and
    ask question Aeroflot and SVO calls local OMON – Police and this
    people kick passengers out of the terminal. complete chaos, no
    human rights. what simple passenger suppose to do? where to go and

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