Tense freaking movie. All about an alcoholic airline pilot who can control anything - even a 30,000 foot nosedive - except his drinking and drugs.
Regaining consciousness after the accident, he decides to quit drinking. He doesn't realize they've already clocked him at three times the legal drunk driving limit. Which is about 6 times the legal 'flying limit' if you're a pilot - which is 0.04 or 'eight hours from bottle to throttle' as they say in the biz - and at AirlinePilotForums.com. (Incidentally, that rule may be extended to twelve hours from drinking to flying.)
Since Denzel had just been partying all night in a hotel room with one of his flight attendants - which included much nudity, drinking and some cocaine to take the cobwebs off - he wasn't exactly going by the book. Because officially it takes more than a couple lines of coke and a close shave to get behind the throttle after a bender. Thank goodness.
Despite the fact there's never been a commercial airline crash due to drunk-flying (according to the National Transportation Safety Board), a tipsy Japanese pilot did kill a handful of crew members and 65 beef cattle after he crashed a Japan Air cargo flight in Alaska in 1977 (a place now known as Hamburger Hill 2 ;)). His blood alcohol level was three times the legal driving limit. Again in the 1970s (go figure!), another small engine pilot nicked the New Jersey bar he'd just been drinking in and then crashed into a radio tower, killing two.
But Hollywood and the 1970s notwithstanding, these are rare exceptions. The NTSB conducts about 10,000 alcohol tests on commercial pilots every year and only about twelve fail. Co-pilots and other crew members are trained to be on guard for the signs of inebriation. You know, things like going "Weeee!" during takeoff or "Hey, what's this (hic) button for?" Not that Denzel displayed many signs of being drunk. In fact, he was cool as cucumber during the daring crash landing.
Washington received an Oscar nod for his portrayal of on-and-of-the-wagon flyboy Whip Whitaker (his best role by far, imho). He said he used a really nasty bout of turbulence he'd been through to access the calmness of the character in a similar situation.
Um ... all the thoughts of drunk pilots made waiting on the line for an Air Canada rep today even more unpleasant. (It was a flight change and you have to do that on the phone). So seriously ... by the time my wait was over and I had been put on ho-o-o-old and then on ho-o-o-old again (this after being on ho-o-o-old yesterday!), I was pretty close to tears and could've used a visit from the Air Canada drink cart!! Damnit!
If you haven't seen it, here's nine tense freaking minutes from the crash scene in superb Flight.