Airlines Have an Alcohol Problem

One of the few remaining pleasures of commercial air travel is a cold pint post-security or a Bloody Mary to quell in-flight nerves. But for flight attendants and the airlines they work for, the grand tradition of drinking while traveling causes a host of problems that some blame on airports and which the airlines are intent on cracking down on.

European low cost carrier Ryanair is leading the charge. In a recent incident a flight from Dublin to Ibiza had to be diverted to Paris to de-plane a trio of drunk and disruptive. The airline has since announced that it will be lobbying for new restrictions on drinking in airports.

The proposed measures include a ban on serving alcohol before 10 a.m., which is common in European airports, and a two drink maximum in airport bars. Similar measures have been called for by fellow low cost carrier Jet 2 and by Aer Lingus which said they would turn away visibly inebriated passengers at the gate.

In a statement, Ryanair said that “It’s completely unfair that airports can profit from the unlimited sale of alcohol to passengers and leave the airlines to deal with the safety consequences.” They added that, because their flights are so short, it is rarely the case that passengers become problematically drunk on the plane; rather, intoxication usually begins before boarding. The airline had already previously banned the consumption of duty-free liquor on their flights, a practice which already is banned in many countries anyway, including the US.

It’s not just a European problem. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a May incident when an American Airlines flight attendant was on the receiving end of a vicious tirade after refusing to serve a passenger another beer. In an opinion piece calling for the banning of alcohol in the cabin, the opinion piece noted that when asked flight attendants overwhelmingly supported a ban on in-flight alcohol.

The FBI said reports of sexual assaults that take place during commercial flights have increased an “alarming” 66% between the years of 2014 and 2017. CNN said an FBI representative told reporters that a majority of offenses happen “on red-eye overnights, flights of three hours or more where cabin lights might be darkened, and/or instances where alcohol is being consumed.”

For frequent fliers who enjoy a drink, it may seem inconceivable that the future of flight might run dry. And indeed for airlines and airports – who gain a not-insignificant revenue stream from selling alcoholic beverages – removing the drinks may bear too high a cost.