Here are a few stories from the past week or so: a drunk woman tried to open a plane door on the way to Turkey; a court is told of a drunken disturbance which caused a flight to Agadir to be diverted to Casablanca; and a plane bound for Iceland made an emergency landing in Edinburgh after an inebriated man tried to eat his phone.
It looks like a spate, or at least the echo of one – this run of alcohol-related incidents from last year, all reached court in the same fortnight. But there have been plenty more in 2020: a drunk escorted off a London to Mexico flight in Winnipeg; two more arrested on landing at Doncaster Sheffield airport; an alcohol fuelled squabble on a flight from Stansted to Malaga.
How do cabin crew see the problem? Is it getting, as it seems to be, markedly worse? One flight attendant for a UK airline says no. “It’s no worse or better,” he told me. “The situation starts at the airport – people drinking three, four or five beers even before 6am – and forgetting that alcohol has a bigger effect on the body in the air. I think most airlines now are good at offloading and refusing passengers on to the plane.”
If it seems worse, according to another flight attendant, it’s because social media makes it seems that way. “And also onboard wifi,” she said, “so these events are getting out into the consciousness much quicker.” Many times, she says, instant posting makes routine incidents harder to resolve. “If it’s been put on social media, you might have the police waiting for the plane when you actually didn’t need them.”
Real trouble is far less common. “I think high-end abuse is very rare,” says my first insider. “I haven’t encountered it personally … Most of the time it is a case of rolling my eyes and getting on with it.”
One element many of these stories have in common is duty-free alcohol. As a result, there has been a crackdown. Ryanair, for example, no longer allows UK passengers from certain airports (Glasgow Prestwick, Manchester) or to certain destinations (Spain, basically) to carry duty-free booze in hand luggage.
But the real solution, according to my second informant, is wider public knowledge of the fact that it is an offence to consume duty-free booze on a flight. “Penalties in these cases will I think make people a bit more aware that it’s not acceptable to drink your own alcohol on board,” she says.