Unfortunately, there is a growing movement by airlines in particular, to push for higher restrictions on the consumption of alcohol for travelling passengers. This is mainly due to a very disruptive minority of passengers transiting through airports. Limits on the sale of alcohol at airports are being proposed as reported recently across various UK newspapers, such as The Times

There was also a recent study conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showing an actual reduction in bad behaviour by passengers. The latest figures are from 2016 when 9,837 instances of poor behaviour from all causes were reported, a drop from 10,854 in the previous year. Alcohol and drugs are the main cause of bad behaviour on flights.

Legal and illegal narcotics and alcohol tend to be the culprit in many of these incidents with a third of such serious incidents, attributed to intoxication in 2016.

“The good news is that many of these incidents can be managed to a satisfactory conclusion by the cabin crew using de-escalation techniques,” said Tim Coleman, IATA assistant director for External Affairs.

IATA defines an unruly passenger as one who fails “to respect the rules of conduct on board aircraft or to follow the instructions of crew members, thereby disturbing good order and discipline on board and compromising safety.”

The Daily Mail has previously reported that, according to data from Colombus Direct – the travel insurance specialist – over two million people have exceeded their weekly alcohol allowance on a single flight, ordering 15 units or more during the journey. Many of whom do so because they’re terrified of flying…

“Jetting off on holiday is both an exciting and sometimes stressful experience and holidaymakers often find alcohol helps them relax and enjoy themselves. However, we urge passengers to drink responsibly by enjoying alcohol in moderation, not only for their own well-being, but for the consideration of other passengers on board.” Alison Wild, Head of Travel Insurance at Columbus Direct

The report states that beyond the health implications, being intoxicated in-flight is illegal and can carry punishment. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has identified disruptive passengers as one of the main reasons for aircraft diversion and highlights that drinking to the point of being disruptive may have safety implications. It also explains that airlines have a right to refuse boarding or service to passengers classified as disruptive. It also warns readers that if their flight is diverted due to someone’s behaviour, the airline may ask that passenger to reimburse the costs, which can be more than £80,000.  Findings from the study by Colombus Direct include:

o   Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those polled in the study when asked about flights over the past five years, admitted to drinking more mid-flight than they do on the ground.

o   Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) have been rendered physically ill, while one in 20 (five per cent) needed help from on-board staff. More than two million had to see a doctor or go to the hospital.

o   Nearly half of respondents cited nerves as the main reason for their over-indulgence, while others blamed the beverages being free. 

The Times has previously reported that “the head of JD Wetherspoon says that people do drink less at airports.” Tim Martin (pictured below), the head of JD Wetherspoon, the 1,000-strong British pub chain, has rubbished Ryanair’s calls for the sale of alcohol to be limited at UK airports and has stated that to limit passengers to two drinks prior to boarding as proposed by Ryanair would be unfair to the vast majority of travelling customers. 

Mr Martin, who owns 16 pubs in UK airports, said less alcohol was sold at airports than on the high street and that the vast majority of customers were well-behaved: “Overall, alcoholic drinks in our airport pubs are 38 per cent of sales. The rest is food, soft drinks and tea and coffee which form the substantial majority. It’s a much lower percentage of alcoholic drink sales [in airports] than on the high street which for us would be about 55 per cent because we do more food than most. 

“So I think people are modifying their behaviour when they fly and most people are behaving well. I think before any action is taken a good idea would be to investigate exactly who is misbehaving and to target action, if possible, at those sorts of people.

“I think addressing the cultural aspects would be better than imposing the limits Ryanair have suggested because I think they’d be unfair on the 99 per cent of people who behave well,” Mr Martin told The Times

On the other hand, Kenny Jacobs, the chief marketing officer at Ryanair, said it was “completely unfair” that airports could profit from the “unlimited sale of alcohol” and leave airlines to deal with the safety consequences.

“This is a particular problem during flight delays when airports apply no limit to the sale of alcohol in airside bars and restaurants,” he said. Mr Martin said banning alcohol sales before 10am was unnecessarily strict given that passengers were changing time zones while travelling: “Particularly when we’re talking about airlines and with people moving between timezones, I think [not serving alcohol before 10am] might be unduly restrictive but I do accept that you can’t tolerate bad behaviour in the air.”

 Ryanair did not suggest similar restrictions to be introduced in Ireland as disruptive incidents were more common in the UK. Wetherspoons does not have any pubs in Irish airports, either in the Republic or in the North, but Mr Martin said he would “definitely take” a premises at Dublin Airport if the DAA offered it to him. Ryanair has already stopped people flying from Glasgow Prestwick and Manchester to Alicante and Ibiza from bringing alcohol on board the aircraft at all.

The reality is that the overall number of disruptive passengers is a very small percentage of the majority of the travelling public. In 2016, UK airlines carried over 142 million passengers whilst the number of incidents due to disruptive passengers was a very, very small share.

The number of incidents or disruptive passengers is far smaller than the number of travellers and the sad state of affairs is that once again measures are being taken that will impact on mostly well behaved travellers.



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