Getting Drunk on a Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Sep 7, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Venky, who experienced the downside of having free drinks on an airplane. Here’s what he had to say:

I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for the past few years, and wanted to convey a funny old story of how I ended up back in the same city where I boarded.

I was traveling from Chennai (MAA) to Singapore (SIN) on a flight that routed through Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and then eventually returned to Chennai — this was circa 1995 on Indian Airlines (a subsidiary of Air India before the brand got erased). As a seasoned traveler between MAA and SIN, I took the very last row, since those seats were often empty (so I could stretch out) and I’d be close to the galley. I helped myself to an obscene number of drinks within the first hour of the flight, and promptly arranged pillows and blankets and fell into an alcohol-induced coma.

While I slept, the flight landed in KUL and then left for SIN after a headcount and a change of crew. We then landed in SIN (where my bags were offloaded), but I was still sound asleep. The new flight attendants must have thought I was flying KUL-MAA via SIN, and that I was just exhibiting my fine alcohol appreciation skills, so I stayed onboard as the flight departed for Chennai. I was rudely woken up at MAA, and in my inebriated condition, I asked if we had landed in Singapore. Everyone thought I was joking, but after they checked my boarding pass, all hell broke loose.

I was immediately put on another flight to Singapore (via MUM and DEL) with strict instructions to not serve me alcohol, and I was reunited with my baggage after the 36-hour journey. Unfortunately, I didn’t earn any miles for all that extra flying!

The old adage that one drink in the air equals two on the ground isn’t accurate, but factors like dehydration, undernourishment and slightly lower oxygen levels can amplify the effect of alcohol on your system at 35,000 feet. It’s important to know your limits, as drinking too much on a plane or showing up to your flight already inebriated isn’t just a breach of etiquette — it can have serious consequences. Airlines are wary of safety concerns posed by overserved passengers, and some carriers (like Ryanair and Aer Lingus) are taking measures to reduce the likelihood of in-flight drunkenness. No need to be a teetotaler the next time you fly; just understand that your ticket isn’t a license to get sloshed.

Venky was fortunate his own drinking spree didn’t have more dire consequences, but ultimately I don’t think he’s to blame for what happened. The cabin crew are responsible for making sure passengers deplane when they’re supposed to, and if a proper headcount had been done in Singapore, they would have realized their numbers were off. The fact that Venky was drunk is beside the point — sober people sleep through takeoffs and landings all the time, and he could just as easily have been in the same predicament without drinking. However, you shouldn’t let this story scare you out of taking an in-flight nap. Miscounts and other similar errors do happen, but they’re exceedingly rare.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Venky for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by @jordvdz/Twenty20

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