It is normally a moment of cheery reassurance when an airline pilot greets passengers during preparations for take-off. But Alexander Cheplevsky sparked panic on flight Aeroflot 315 when he began to speak.
His slurred and garbled comments ahead of a flight from Moscow to New York convinced passengers that he was drunk. When he apparently switched from Russian into unintelligible English, fear turned to revolt.
Flight attendants initially ignored passengers’ complaints and threatened to expel them from the Boeing 767 jet unless they stopped “making trouble”. As the rebellion spread, Aeroflot representatives boarded the aircraft to try to calm down the 300 passengers.
One sought to reassure them by announcing that it was “not such a big deal” if the pilot was drunk because the aircraft practically flew itself.
Mr Cheplevsky did little to ease passengers’ fears by refusing to leave the cockpit to show that he was sober. When he was finally persuaded to face them, witnesses said that he appeared unsteady on his feet and had bloodshot eyes.
Aeroflot’s bad day got worse when it emerged that the socialite and television host Ksenia Sobchak was on board. Ms Sobchak, one of Russia’s best-known personalities, demanded that all four pilots be replaced.
The airline finally relented and summoned new pilots to fly the jet to New York three hours late. More than 100 passengers passed the time as they waited by signing a petition declaring that they believed Mr Cheplevsky had been drunk.