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Do Airline Passengers Have a Drinking Problem?

Aug. 19, 2017
4 min read
Do Airline Passengers Have a Drinking Problem?
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How much is too much? For years, air travelers have used booze to help them fly — whether to ease their anxiety, help them fall asleep or treat themselves to a pre-vacation celebratory drink. But, a recent study has shown that passengers may be overdoing it.

According to a BBC investigation, between February 2016 and February 2017 British authorities arrested 387 people for drunkenness-related incidents at airports, which is up 50% from the same period one year earlier. While the BBC story focused on the UK, there is anecdotal evidence that drunken behavior may be on the rise elsewhere as well.

According to flight attendants in the BBC report, the worst routes for drunken passengers to Great Britain are to or from Alicante (ALC), Ibiza (IBZ) and Palma, Majorca (PMI) — all holiday destinations in Spain. In addition, the staggering report found that more than half of cabin crew members who were surveyed had experienced or witnessed some form of verbal, physical or sexual abuse on board a UK flight.

Ryanair is the first UK carrier to try and curb the issue. The Dublin-based carrier, the world's biggest non-US airline by passengers carried, said this week that it's trying to prevent passengers from "preloading" on booze before they even step foot on the aircraft. It hopes to implement the policy with a requirement for passengers to show their boarding passes when buying a drink at the airport. Once you've reached two, you're done.

A woman having a glass of wine on an airplane. Image courtesy of Hero Images via Getty Images.

In addition to the two-drink maximum, a spokesperson for Ryanair confirmed to the Telegraph that the airline wants UK airports to introduce further restrictions on the sale of alcohol. For example, alcohol sales should be banned before 10am. Currently, Ryanair doesn't allow passengers to drink onboard alcohol purchased from duty-free stores. Furthermore, passengers flying from Glasgow (GLA), Manchester (MAN), Ibiza (IBZ) and Alicante (ALC) are required to place their duty-free booze in the cargo hold rather than carrying it on board. Also, given that many of Ryanair's routes are shorter, there's often little time for beverage service. (The low-cost carrier offers alcoholic drinks for purchase.)

In the US, there's no shortage of in-flight tales of inappropriate behavior from intoxicated passengers toward flight crew or other passengers. There was the man on a Delta flight who inappropriately touched his seatmate, and then there was the bloodied, intoxicated passenger who had to be subdued, and finally when Richard Marx stepped in to subdue a drunk passenger who started attacking flight attendants.

So, it raises the question: Do airline passengers have a drinking problem? The most recent data shows that yes, travelers might indeed have an issue — at least in the UK. While there's no recent data on how passengers in the US are doing when it comes to alcohol-related incidents on airplanes, there's indication that the issue may not be limited to British fliers. In recent months, there have been several cases of intoxicated passengers in the US causing disruptions, whether by harassing crew or other passengers, like in August 2016 when an American Airlines pilot tackled a drunk passenger after he pushed a flight attendant.

While Ryanair is focusing its target on alcohol served in the terminal, there is still some responsibility on the airline itself. Flight attendants are able to refuse serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated passengers, but it can be hard to gauge when someone is about to veer from tipsy to belligerent. With the possible introduction of alcohol-sale limits to British airports, the number of incidents might go down — and that's something we will have to monitor.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto