29 Feb

Why drinking and flying often don’t mix

ABTA's Sean Tipton tells us why drinking and flying often don’t mix

One of the UK’s leading airlines recently reported that it had issued 50 members of the public with lifetime bans for unacceptable behaviour and also prevented 500 people from getting on board their flights because they were drunk. Fairly shocking figures and we are clearly talking about a little more than nervous flyers having a few drinks to drum up some Dutch courage. Airlines used to get criticised for drunken behaviour in the days of widely available free drinks on board, but I don’t think this is at the root of the problem as fewer airlines now offer free drinks. Cabin crew have also been instructed not to give alcohol to anyone who’s clearly had one too many. 

No, drunken and disruptive passengers generally fall into the category of those who see drink as an intrinsic part of the holiday and also see their holiday as starting in the airport and continuing on the plane. People drinking in airport bars at all times of the day are a common sight, but the real problems occur with people drinking their duty frees once on board. This is such a serious issue that some airlines will even confiscate open cans or bottles of soft drinks as people have sometimes topped them up with spirits! One of the facts that people are not aware of is that because airplanes are pressurised, alcohol gets into your bloodstream much more efficiently, in effect turning that single vodka into a generous double. 

The penalties for drunken behaviour are severe. Firstly, check-in staff will not allow someone who is clearly drunk on board the plane. The airline then has NO obligation to provide a replacement flight, awkward enough if you’re flying out of the UK but even more problematic if you’re trying to get home. 

Being drunk and disruptive on board a flight is also a criminal offence and offenders will be restrained, tied to their seats and then arrested on landing. If the captain feels that the safety of their plane, passengers and crew is at risk, they can redirect the flight to the nearest airport. So, you could find yourself in a foreign prison cell in a country that you had no intention of ever visiting, rather than sitting on the beach with your mates.  

The next penalty heading your way is a financial one. You will be liable for the airline’s extra costs. One American gentleman recently ended up $100,000 out of pocket as, due to his flight being redirected because of his appalling behaviour, the airline had to accommodate everyone on board in hotels overnight, in addition to the extra fuel costs. Ouch. 

Although the vast majority of the millions of people who fly each year are well behaved, disruptive passengers are a problem and having one on a flight is very unpleasant for everyone on board. I hope that anyone who might be tempted to start the party early will read this and think twice. Save the boozing for when you land.