The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
Should airlines stop serving alcohol?
There are two kinds of in-flight drinkers: passengers who say, “Oh, why not” to a glass of wine or a beer with their stale bread and lava-hot pasta; and those who see passing through security as their cue to get completely larruped.
Unfortunately, the latter group seems to be growing. Instances of in-flight violence, nudity and sexual assault are on the rise, and many of them are directly linked to drunken passengers.
In 2022 there were 1,028 cases of disruptive behaviour and “air rage” reported by UK airlines, nearly triple the number in 2019. This year is heading the same way: last month a drunken passenger on a Jet2 flight from Glasgow to Dalaman had to be restrained after allegedly abusing members of the cabin crew. The plane was diverted to Sofia.
This is not just a problem on low-cost airlines. Last week The Telegraph revealed how one business-class passenger flying with Emirates had to endure an intoxicated passenger trying to remove her from her seat and attempting to urinate on her.
Charlie Page, who flies a 787 Dreamliner for a UK airline, says the decision on whether to allow a passenger on board falls to the pilot.
“We understand that serving alcohol during a flight is a significant part of the customer experience, but there is a delicate balance to be found,” he said. “The problem comes with the interpretation of the word ‘drunk’. How a set amount of alcohol affects one person will be completely different to how it affects another.
“On certain routes, we can be up to three hours from the nearest suitable airport [for landing]. Therefore, diverting the aircraft for a disruptive passenger will come with a massive cost to the airline and great inconvenience to the other passengers.”
Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon calls for an end to our unhealthy inflight drinking culture: “I find that perfectly sane people turn into loutish yobs when handed a gin and tonic at 35,000 feet,” she said.
“I used to be that loutish yob. I was once informed that I had drunk the plane out of champagne, eight hours into a 14-hour flight. I had a massive fear of flying, but I also had an alcohol problem – and boy, oh boy, was it a problem when an exhausted member of the cabin crew told me I couldn’t have any more booze.
“Now almost six years sober, I barely think about drinking. But if I’m going to think about it, then you can bet your last mai tai that the cravings will arrive in an airport,” she said. “And if you don’t have a problem with the grog, then it won’t be a problem avoiding it for a few hours during your flight.”
Former flight attendant Kristina Galvydyte says the shoulder seasons are the most challenging in terms of problem drinking: “The worst situations usually arise with stag dos and hen dos trying to get the party started early: the cabin crew are extra cautious in spring and autumn when the flights are normally at their cheapest for a weekend trip away,” she said.
But despite the problems she has encountered, she does not believe a ban on alcohol is the answer.
“The solution is not banning alcohol on planes, as that would also be unfair to the rest of the passengers who don’t feel the need to drink to oblivion. We need to see more regulations in place at the airports themselves, and, overall, to educate ourselves on the effect of alcohol at high altitude.”