On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Kona, Hawaii, our flight attendant declared an unofficial happy hour — for five straight hours.
The drinks didn’t stop flowing. Two women sitting in front of me got very drunk, loud and abusive, making the flight awful. When deplaning, one even had to be helped to the terminal.
Unfortunately, it happens too often: obnoxious drunk passengers at 30,000 feet making a scene, too often monopolizing flight attendants’ time and creating a potentially costly problem for travelers.
Passengers are certainly responsible for their own behavior, for becoming intoxicated, and for their subsequent infuriating and potentially dangerous behavior. Too often, however, flight attendants bear some responsibility for drunk passengers. I’ve been on more than a few flights over the years, like our Kona flight, when obviously drunk passengers were served liquor until they were finally out of control.
When that happens, there is literally no one who can help other passengers, because the flight attendant is the problem.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, 14 CFR 91.17, (b), flight crews aren’t permitted to allow obviously intoxicated passengers board their planes at the airport and according to 14 CFR 121.575, if an airline passenger came on board seemingly sober, but became subsequently intoxicated, the flight crew is obliged to stop serving them more alcoholic beverages. The regulations also permit them to stop passengers from imbibing any alcoholic beverages they brought on board themselves.
I’ve met many great flight attendants working the skies, but there are still too many who take the easy way out with difficult passengers who feel needy and can’t seem to get along without a drink in their hands while aloft.
Flight attendants have shared with me over the years it’s rare that they can’t spot a drunk passenger by their behavior and other characteristics. Many are proactive during boarding and have drunk passengers removed before the plane’s doors are closed. Most won’t serve an intoxicated passenger inflight and even offer them coffee or soda. When flight attendants take that approach, it helps everyone on board.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen often enough. Not proactively dealing with intoxicated passengers can cause major problems.
Last month, a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to London returned to Philadelphia, landing about three hours after takeoff due to an unruly, drunk passenger who was taken into custody after he “groped” three women on the flight. Clearly, this man was either drunk in the airport and should have been prevented from boarding or was quickly served enough on the plane that he became highly intoxicated.
Incidents like this are very serious, costly and often preventable.
The time is now for passengers to drink responsibly and perhaps substitute ginger ale or orange juice for whiskey or vodka.
The time is long overdue for passengers to demand the FAA require the airlines follow their regulations concerning intoxicated passengers and serving alcoholic beverages while aloft, for the airlines to take this problem seriously and for top flight attendants to educate their peers, that allowing drunks on board and serving obviously intoxicated passengers must stop.