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Pilot sues airline, saying it won't accommodate his snoring

Published Oct. 17, 2015

Commercial pilot Bruce Alonso of Lutz suffers from a snoring problem.

His snoring is apparently severe enough, and perhaps loud enough, that he didn't want to share a hotel room with anyone during training for a commuter airline, CommutAir.

But this week the 56-year-old filed suit against the airline in Hillsborough County circuit court saying Champlain Enterprises, the Vermont company that operates the airline, refused to accommodate what the suit said was the pilot's disability.

The company is one of several that also fly under the name United Express.

Alonso, who started working at the airline in August 2014, alleged in the suit that he asked Champlain on Sept. 5, 2014, to avoid giving him a roommate in the hotel room provided during pilot training because of his "severe snoring."

The snoring, he said, was caused by a medical condition that is unidentified in the suit.

Alonso said the airline initially agreed as long as he provided a doctor's note, which the suit said he quickly did.

But just over a week later, the suit said, Alonso got a letter from Champlain denying any accommodation for snoring "even though granting plaintiff's request would not have imposed any undue hardship" on the airline.

The lawsuit said that refusal "effectively" terminated his employment. Alonso did not explain how, nor did the suit say where training took place.

The refusal to accommodate Alonso's disability, the lawsuit said, violated the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. The airline's "actions were willful and done with malice," the suit said, noting the pilot "is a member of a protected class" under the act.

Alonso, reached at his home Friday, declined to comment, saying, "I just want to keep this private." CommutAir officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken steps to combat obstructive sleep apnea among pilots, a condition that can cause severe snoring and other problems. An undated FAA circular warns pilots about the dangers of the condition and notes pilots with sleep apnea can keep their FAA medical certificates and keep flying with medical care.

The FAA has noted sleep apnea can lead to pilot exhaustion with potentially deadly consequences.

In 2008, the FAA said, a commercial flight with 40 passengers flew by its destination after the two pilots on the aircraft both fell sound asleep. The pilot, who had sleep apnea, awoke and safely landed the plane. The FAA did not identify the airline involved or identify the destination.

The voice cockpit recorder of a 2010 Air India flight picked up the sounds of the captain's loud snoring shortly before the aircraft crashed, killing 158 people.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432. Follow @Times_Levesque.