Vancouver Sun

Plane truth about drinking at 36,000 feet

Here’s what you need to know about alcohol consumptio­n on board passenger airlines


On a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Newark, N.J., to Minneapoli­s, a passenger seated near Stephanie Wolkin downed five mini-bottles of vodka in rapid succession. By the time the plane landed, the intoxicate­d passenger had become violently ill, and Wolkin, a retired union worker, had earned 10,000 frequent-flyer miles the hard way.

A majority of passengers drink when they fly, according to a new survey by Fractl, a Floridabas­ed marketing agency. More than eight in 10 passengers say they have consumed alcohol while waiting at the airport, and that number increases to more than 90 per cent once in the air. Millennial­s are 10 per cent more likely to be intoxicate­d on a flight than older passengers, according to the survey.

Alcohol has fuelled some of the most horrific inflight incidents in recent years, including loud confrontat­ions, bloody brawls and sexual assaults. This summer, Irish discount airline Ryanair publicly called for restrictio­ns on alcohol sales at airports and a ban on alcohol sales before 10 a.m.

Few people talk about alcohol on planes beyond the physiologi­cal effects of consuming a few beers inside a pressurize­d aluminum tube. How much should you drink on board? What should you do when someone next to you is drinking to excess? And have we reached a point where we should limit — or ban — alcoholic beverages on board?

Los Angeles psychiatri­st Brian Cassmassi remembers a red-eye flight to Europe shortly after he obtained his MD. About halfway there, the flight attendants asked if there was a doctor on board.

“A female passenger had become inebriated from drinking two small airline alcohol bottles and taking her prescribed Ambien,” Cassmassi recalls. “She was combative toward the flight attendants and other passengers seated near her. I helped to restrain her and calm her in the galley until we made an emergency landing.”

Cassmassi thinks one or two mini-bottles on a flight are usually fine, but it depends on the passenger. Flight crews have to monitor their behaviour carefully to ensure they’re not overdoing it, he says.

Among airlines, alcohol availabili­ty runs from an outright ban to free drinks. Middle Eastern carriers such as Royal Brunei Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and EgyptAir fly alcohol-free. Other airlines don’t serve adult beverages on domestic flights (Turkish Airlines and many Chinese airlines, for example). A majority of airlines still serve alcohol, but may charge you for it, except in business and first class.

Flight attendants undergo alcohol training using the traffic light system that bars and restaurant­s use to categorize patrons: green for social drinkers behaving within social norms, yellow for lower inhibition­s and inappropri­ate behaviour, and red for impaired motor functions. When passengers shift to yellow, they cut them off.

But when the drinks start flowing at 36,000 feet, flight attendants are outnumbere­d, and it falls to passengers to ensure that other passengers are not overindulg­ing.

Experts say the steps for defusing disagreeme­nts involving alcohol on planes are identical to those for defusing any conflict. First, ask the passenger to slow down on the drinking. You can hint at that by saying: “Could I get you a glass of water? I hear alcohol dehydrates you on a plane.” If that doesn’t work, ask a flight attendant if you can sit somewhere else.

Finally, talk to a crew member privately about the passenger’s behaviour. At the very least, they can cut the drunk passenger off, which will make the rest of the flight a little more bearable.

For The Washington Post

 ?? GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O ?? Among airlines, alcohol availabili­ty runs from an outright ban to free on-board beverages.
GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O Among airlines, alcohol availabili­ty runs from an outright ban to free on-board beverages.

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