Monday, 14 August 2017

High as a kite

The BBC reports that arrests of passengers suspected of being drunk at UK airports and on flights has gone up 50%: 387 people were arrested between February 2016 and February 2017; the figure for the previous year was 255. Seeing that there are around 236,000,000 air passenger journeys in the UK annually, that represents roughly one incident every 600,000 passengers, which doesn't sound much at all, but it's not as simple as that.

19,000 cabin crew members of Unite the Union were surveyed; 4,000 responded, with one in five saying they had suffered physical abuse. Ally Murphy, a former cabin crew manager with Virgin, said: "People just see us as barmaids in the sky. They would touch your breasts, or they'd touch your bum or your legs. I've had hands going up my skirt before." I get her point, badly expressed though it is: barmaids in pubs are entitled not to be groped as well.

How come 387 incidents constitute such a big problem? The answer is that the real figure is not 387: for every incident that results in an arrest, there will be loads that don't get that far. Calling in the police will seriously delay flights, with a knock-on effect for connections, so I expect that they are called out only in the worst cases. 

It's not only the cabin crew that are affected: other passengers can find raucous, perhaps aggressive, passengers unpleasant and sometimes intimidating: a couple of badly-behaved drunks can ruin a flight for hundreds of people, as well as directing sexual and violent assaults at the crew, who are just trying to do a job which nowadays is not as well-paid as it used to be. I'm not suggesting good wages justify assaults: just that assaults, aggression, noise and arguments from drunks are more likely to make the employees conclude: "I'm not paid enough to put up with all this!"

Why do these idiots get this way, when drinking in the UK in pubs and bars is for the most part a peaceful matter? These is my speculations:
  • Some drink too much because they're nervous of flying. Others have taken sedatives to relax themselves, then add alcohol. Neither is a good way to deal with the situation.
  • As people are going on holiday, inhibitions are down and the holiday begins in the airport bar.
  • Drinkers don't take account of the effect of alcohol on the system at unusual times of the day. For example, drinks taken in the morning can have a stronger effect.
  • Similarly, drinkers don't take account of the effects of altitude which can also increase the effect of alcohol.
  • Being on holiday, some are consuming more alcohol than they are used to and go beyond their personal tolerance level.
  • Again, being on holiday - as opposed to being in the real world of getting up for work, etc - does in some people engender a feeling that the normal rules of behaviour don't apply.
  • Similarly, but even worse, some people are just bad-mannered, abusive slobs anyway - they don't need much excuse to show their true colours.
It seems clear to me that air crews need more support; no matter what training they have, dealing with irrational drunks is not an easy task, especially when, unlike in pubs, throwing them out of the door is not an option. 

Some suggestions include making the consumption of your own alcohol on the plane a criminal offence and limiting the amount supplied to individuals on planes. There are voluntary codes but they're clearly not working. This is one area where serious restrictions on alcohol wouldn't bother me in the slightest: no one wants drunks disrupting flights thousands of feet in the air.

Although I've not flown for some time now, I did quite often many years ago. I never once had a drink on a flight, and if I were on a plane now, I wouldn't particularly want one. It hardly seems an ordeal to wait until you've arrived before getting stuck in.


  1. I think the second reason you mention is probably the cause of most problems with drunk passengers. I've seen people sinking pints at airport bars at eight o'clock in the morning because they can and they're already in holiday mode.

    I might have a quick pint while waiting for a flight later in the day - you're much more likely to find cask beer at airport bars now than you were a few years ago - and a bottle of beer on board, especially if it's a Lufthansa flight as they serve Warsteiner, one of the better German lagers, but really don't see any reason why the airports and airlines shouldn't operate to the same licensing hours as pubs, apart from the reduction it would mean to their profits.

  2. I can understand a nice civilised drink to get you in the holiday mood, but I cannot see the point of deliberately getting legless. Nearly everyone who misbehaves on a flight will have drunk more than they can handle.

  3. If the airlines didn't exhort people to show up hours early and then have to sit around the sort of soul-less place that makes the average shopping "mall" look exciting (apart from the prices) then there would be less opportunity for drinking. I've never seen much drinking at all at London City, my local airport, but then you can be through and on the plane within half an hour of arrival. However, flights from there don't serve the sort of destination that I suspect accounts for much of the trouble.


Comments, including disagreements, are welcome.
Abuse and spam are not and will be deleted straight away.
Comment moderation is installed for older posts.