Should alcohol be limited or even banned on UK flights

18th August 2017

Briton’s have a notorious reputation for drunken behavior, so it’s not uncommon to see people fuelling their thirst for booze prior to jetting off abroad.


Punch ups at 35,000 feet, mid-air arrests and screaming quarrels are unfortunately all in a day’s work for some air cabin crew, leading to dangerous incidents in the air, putting the safety and even lives of passengers at risk.


Figures reveal that disruptive incidents due to drunken passenger behavior have increased by over 50%. From February 2016 and February 2017, 387 people were arrested, up from 255 the previous year.


Between 2012 and 2016, the Civil Aviation Authority reported a 600% increase in disruptive passenger incidents involving alcohol.


A recent BBC Panorama documentary, Plane Drunk looks at the increasing number of British passengers flying intoxicated with footage taken by passengers during incidents.


Whistleblowers from the industry reveal the impact of disrupted journeys. However, with alcohol sales being a key revenue source for airlines, the documentary asks “… is profit taking precedence over passenger convenience and safety?”


One former air hostess told Panorama, “People just see us as barmaids in the sky. I was pulled into an upper-class bed by a passenger who was feeling particularly lucky, I guess.


“They would touch your breasts, or they’d touch your bum or your legs, or I’ve had hands going up my skirt before.


“It’s rage inducing and you shouldn’t have to deal with that.”


A survey of 4,000 cabin crew by trade union Unite found that 87% had witnessed drunken passenger behavior, with a quarter believing it imposed a risk to flight safety.


Incidents are commonplace in the UK. In March this year, a 39 year-old man from Birmingham was sentenced to seven months in prison after causing chaos on a seven hour flight to Dubai.


He got out of control after downing a bottle of vodka and started to head-butt the TV screen on the backseat in front of him.  When given a warning by the captain, he was told to p*** off and threw a drink across the cabin, covering a woman in orange juice and then threatened to rape a fellow passenger. After he was restrained in plastic handcuffs and made to wear a mask, he managed to move it to the side and spat in the face of an air hostess.


According to Dr. Clare Morridon from MedExpress, when in the air, you can feel more intoxicated, she told HuffPost UK, “When on a plane, the barometric pressure in the cabin of a plane is lower than it normally is. This decreased pressure means that the body finds it harder to absorb oxygen – this can produce light-headedness or hypoxia.


“In other words, the lower level of oxygen in your blood means that you may seem more drunk in the air than you would on the ground after consuming the same amount of alcohol,” she told HuffPost UK.


Incidents can be that serious, planes have to be diverted. A couple on a Jet2 flight from London to Gran Canaria started to have a disagreement with one another which became increasingly heated. In front of families onboard the aircraft, they started to hurl abuse at each other which turned physical, throwing punches at one another.


The cabin crew had to separate and restrain the couple and eventually had to be diverted to Faro airport for the safety of other passengers. The pair were given a lifetime ban by the airline with action being taken to recover losses.


Phil Ward, MD of said: “It is staggering to think that people would behave in this violent fashion on an aircraft full of holidaymakers and families”


“As a family friendly airline we take a zero tolerance approach to disruptive behaviour in all forms, and we will now be taking all necessary steps, including legal action if necessary, to recover the losses that were incurred by the deplorable behaviour of this couple.”


The UK Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers was developed after considerations from the CAA, government officials, the police, airlines and a major airport retailer and was formed by members of the British Air Transport Association, the Airport Operators Association, the Airport Police Commanders Group, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the UK Travel Retail Forum.


The code was intended to “…create a common, consistent approach that co-ordinates and enhances existing efforts to prevent and minimise disruptive passenger behavior.”


However, many airlines believe this is having minimum effect, prompting major airline Ryanair to call for tighter restrictions on drinking pre and during flight.


The airline claims that drunken passengers have saddled them with consequences and have urged airports to challenge this issue by proposing a ban on alcohol being sold early morning in airports and a limit to the amount sold per boarding pass.


Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs said: “It’s completely unfair that airports can profit from the unlimited sale of alcohol to passengers and leave the airlines to deal with the safety consequences. This is a particular problem during flight delays when airports apply no limit to the sale of alcohol in airside bars and restaurants. This is an issue which the airports must now address and we are calling for significant changes to prohibit the sale of alcohol at airports, particularly with early morning flights and when flights are delayed.


As the largest airline in Europe, Ryanair’s number one priority is the safety of our customers, crew and aircraft and we operate strict guidelines for the carriage of customers who are disruptive or appear to be under the influence of alcohol. Given that all our flights are short-haul, very little alcohol is actually sold on board, so it’s incumbent on the airports to introduce these preventative measures to curb excessive drinking and the problems it creates, rather than allowing passengers to drink to excess before their flights.”


It’s not just the airlines that are concerned about this issue. A recent survey by travel agent Opodo revealed that almost one in four people would welcome a two-drink limit on planes.

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