Should Booze be Banned on Board Aircraft?

Written by Kate Goldstone

In the wake of yet another drunken incident on board a flight, we’re looking at booze on aircraft this week. And it’s a particularly contentious subject.

booze on planes

Alcohol on Aircraft

Some people think getting drunk in the airport or on a plane is perfectly fine, something passengers have always had the right to do. Others think things have gone too far, with out-and-out drunkenness becoming more and more common, overtaking the long tradition for having a couple of drinks on board and turning it into something nastier, less acceptable and often downright antisocial.

Some industry commentators and passengers feel feel it’s high time airlines and airports tightened up the rules about drunkenness on the ground and in the air. And a growing number think it’s about time alcohol was banned from both airports and planes altogether in the interests of everyone’s safety, comfort and enjoyment.

Booze on flights – An investigation

First, it makes sense to take a quick look at the primary function of a passenger aircraft. Few would disagree it’s an airline’s job to take people from A to B safely and securely, and ideally make it a pleasant experience despite the fact that you’re stuck 30,000 feet in the air, way above the earth – something that freaks enough of us out without unpredictable drunk people on board.

Second, it seems sensible to look at alcohol itself, too. Along with tobacco, alcohol sits at the very top of every evidence-based dangerous drugs list in the world, way above illicit substances like LSD and Ecstasy. Being drunk kills thousands of us every year. It’s responsible for massive amounts of extremely expensive damage to property. And the health issues is causes present a huge financial burden to the NHS.

So what role does alcohol play in the safe transport of people? Bearing in mind its dangers, logic says it’s highly debatable. While it’s nice to have a drink on board a plane, is it really a good idea? Is booze an essential part of the air travel experience? After all we can’t drink and drive or drink at work, and being drunk on a bus or train doesn’t exactly endear you to your fellow passengers.

In other words, should alcohol be given the same treatment as smoking, banned from all aircraft as a matter of course?

Drunken man jailed for 9 months over plane violence

Gatwick police recently encountered a man so drunk he didn’t even know what country he was in. He probably couldn’t remember the fact that he’d forced the plane to be diverted either, following a terrifying mid-air confrontation. And he’s been thrown in prison for nine months as a result, having been made an example of. It’s a clear sign the police are fed up with this kind of thing, as are the airlines and the majority of people who fly with them.

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34 year old Andrew Tosh, who is surely old enough to know better, “sexually assaulted a female cabin crew member, swore and acted aggressively to other passengers on the Glasgow to Turkey flight”. The police had to cuff him to keep him calm after the plane landed at Gatwick in an unscheduled stop, where they turfed him off the plane to prevent a potential disaster. While being arrested Tosh spat at the police, who had to put a hood over his head, and the way he treated the cabin crew resulted in him being added to the sex offenders register. What a dramatic and shameful end to a drunken binge.

Imagine you were there. Nobody in their right mind would enjoy sitting next to a drunken lout for hours, even more so when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. And what about the cabin crew? Do they deserve having to deal with sexual abuse, verbal abuse and physical threats? It’s frightening for other passengers, especially children, and the police have just about had enough of it. In their words: “This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable and neither us nor the airlines will tolerate it.”

Sadly it’s only the latest in a string of drunken incidents on board aeroplanes. Happily the worm is turning and it looks like things might eventually change.

Anti-alcohol group calls for an in-plane ban

The Aussie anti-alcohol campaign group Drug Arm Australasia has declared their support for banning booze in aircraft and even in airports themselves. They reckon a ban would, “reduce the risk and harms associated with alcohol use and increase the safety of both passengers and crew.” The call for a ban comes after two flights were disrupted by disruptive and dangerous drunks in just two months.

Qantas and Virgin not planning to change alcohol policies

Popular Aussie airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia both say they’re not planning to change their alcohol policies. Maybe it’s because they’re scared to be the first airline to make a stand? But if one brave airline topples, will the rest follow?

in flight entertainment

In-Flight Entertainment – with drinks

It’s likely, since redirecting planes and making unscheduled stops is expensive and inconvenient for airlines as well as driving sober passengers nuts and disrupting innocent people’s journeys. And the strain it puts on the cabin crew and the people who actually fly the planes doesn’t bear thinking about. What an awful thing to have to deal with in a confined space, where there’s no escape from the mayhem and it goes on for hours and hours.

Ryanair takes action against drunks on board

Bucking the trend for ignoring the issue, Ryanair has already banned booze on flights from Glasgow Prestwick airport to Ibiza after a run of passenger-driven disruptions. They say:

“Any alcohol purchased in airport shops or elsewhere must be packed in a suitable item of baggage, which will be tagged and placed in the aircraft hold free of charge. Customers attempting to conceal alcohol will be denied travel without refund or compensation.

Having consulted with our customers and the airport, passengers flying from Glasgow Prestwick to Ibiza will no longer be permitted to bring duty free alcohol on board the aircraft.

Those who have purchased duty free alcohol will be asked to either place their purchases in their cabin baggage and into the hold at the boarding gate, or leave their purchases behind. The comfort and safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority and we will not tolerate unruly behaviour at any time.”

It looks like Ryanair’s flights between Prestwick and Ibiza will be a lot more pleasurable for ordinary passengers who don’t feel the need to get absolutely legless while travelling. But it still leaves most of us, on other flights, wide open to abuse, fear, delays, diversions and potential in-flight disaster.

Sussex police scheme helps prevent drunken incidents on board

A scheme to tackle drunk passengers at Gatwick Airport has seen alcohol-fuelled incidents drop in frequency, thanks to Sussex police patrolling airport bars on the look-out for excessive pre-flight boozing. They’re taking the initiative along with Monarch Airlines, targeting late night flights to Ibiza. As a result the police say there’s been a 50% drop in booze-related issues. Monarch also says incidents have been “greatly reduced”.

alcohol on aircraft

Alcohol Miniatures on Aircraft

Apparently Sussex police have been telling passengers in airport bars that if they get too drunk, they won’t be allowed on the plane, although the airline’s cabin crew have the final say in whether people are let on board.

As the police say, “We all want people to have a drink and enjoy their flight, but it’s about just not starting a party a little bit too early, and being aware that at altitude the effects of alcohol increase – so two pints can potentially become four pints at altitude.”

Would booze-free flights suit you?

Would you prefer to fly on a plane where booze isn’t an issue because it’s banned on board? If you’re travelling as a family, the answer is probably ‘yes’. The same goes if you’re not inclined to booze your way to oblivion on the way to your destination, a group that probably includes the majority of the flying public.

How about a choice between boozy flights and non-booze options, where you had the choice of ‘enjoying’ a rowdy on-board party or picking a quiet alcohol-free flight? It’s obvious that flights to some destinations – for example Ibiza – are more at risk from drunken disturbances than others. Should airlines ban booze on at-risk routes or make a wholesale ban?

Whatever your views, we’d love to hear them. Feel free to comment and share.

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