A cup of ice, no drink, refilled continuously through the flight. A phony, overly put-on chumminess with the crew starting right from boarding. Insistence that the flight attendant accept a large tip after ordering the first drink. All of these are the favored “sneaky” tactics of people looking to get drunk on a plane. (The ice is for the duty-free liquor they hope we don’t catch them pouring – though the rapidly increasing volume of the conversation tends to be a big giveaway, the newfound crew best friendship and greased palms are in the hopes that we “take special care” of our new buddies regardless of their behavior). For us flight attendants, it’s usually pretty easy to be the boring no-funsters who successfully put the kibosh on getting wild on the airplane because there’s a distinct pattern of behavior preceding the party.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration strictly prohibits those who are intoxicated, regardless of how good or horrible their behavior, from so much as setting foot on an airplane. Regulations like these go a long way in ensuring the safety, comfort and sanity of everyone onboard. When I began flying years ago, despite the laws being no different then, drunks were a frequent headache. Gate agents would regularly push people on board with the insistence that “he/she promised to sleep for the whole flight.” (That was a lie, every single time.) As a new hire, I was too intimidated to stand my ground, and I’d end up with incidents that required paperwork and sometimes even the police. Experience taught me quickly that my passengers deserved better, I deserved better and that being the “nice guy” to someone who couldn’t be bothered enough to not make a spectacle of themselves was not worth losing my job for.
BBC’s Panorama recently aired a feature highlighting the airline drinking problem being experienced in the U.K., claiming Britain’s airports experienced a 50% increase in alcohol-related arrests over the course of 2016. More than half of flight attendants and other airline employees surveyed as part of the investigation claimed to have dealt with both verbal and physical abuse related to drinking. This past Friday, for instance, an Ibiza-bound Ryanair flight, departing from London Stansted, diverted to Bordeaux after an unruly group of men reacted violently to the news of being cut off. Upon landing, the men then brawled with police on the runway. And this is one of many similar stories to come out recently, many of which involve Ibiza. (The other two favorites of drunk and rowdy Europeans? Alicante and Palma Majorca, Spain.)
The regulations proposed by Ryanair to help curtail the increase in alcohol-related problems have not been entirely well-received. For some, a limit of two drinks per airline passenger would be too few for those who can handle more, and it also seems like the time it would take to verify everyone’s boarding pass in a computer would cause wait times to increase exponentially at every restaurant or bar in the airport. A ban on all airport alcohol sales prior to 10 a.m. also seems like it would accomplish little while restricting people like me, who might enjoy a single Bloody Mary to send myself off on holiday, from doing so. The most effective method is to restrict passengers from drinking their own duty free liquor onboard, which legislators are working to ensure will happen soon in the U.K.
I’ve experienced atrocious drunken behavior on flights, but it hasn’t been an issue for me in many years. Many of my colleagues had the same perspective as well, agreeing that fewer intoxicated passengers make it as far as the jetbridge these days. I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed here in the U.S., but if statistics show any upturn in alcohol-related incidents, I would argue that this is mostly due to catching problems on the ground before they become problems in the air.
I believe that the U.K. need not go as far as broad-sweeping alcohol restrictions that would inconvenience the multitude of responsibly drinking passengers that pass through every day. Vigilantly enforcing the laws currently in place and maintaining an awareness in the cabin should be enough. It isn’t always, as sometimes people will inevitably slip through the cracks, but I can only hope that European crews will soon find themselves, like my friends and I, barely remembering a time in their careers when drunk passengers were driving them to drink, too.