Drunk and Dangerous? How cabin crew deal with boozy passengers

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By cabincrew.com on Monday 28th May, 2012 at 13:18

Drunken passengers can cause major headaches and a lot of unnecessary stress for cabin crew. Drink-induced bad behaviour frequently leads to serious delays and disruption to flights.

Earlier this month two British passengers on board a Thomas Cook flight to Tenerife caused a bomb scare by telling cabin crew they had an explosive device in their hand luggage. They were arrested when the flight landed but not before upsetting other passengers and creating a lot of work for the onboard team. So as the peak holiday travel season kicks in, we look at how best to deal with ‘over-refreshed’ customers.

The law is pretty clear as most cabin crew will know. It is illegal for any person who is intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs to be boarded onto a public carrier flight. Likewise it is illegal to become intoxicated or under the influence of drugs while on board a public flight.

Many airlines are sensitive to people acting drunk on flights, and have trained their cabin crew and ground staff very well in the art of spotting and dealing with inebriated passengers. Disruptive behavior can result in those involved being constrained during the flight, or being arrested on landing. In fact if sufficiently violent behavior is experienced the plane will make an unscheduled stop to have the guilty party arrested. In this case all extra expenses for the landing are on that person’s tab – a very unwelcome addition to anyone’s hangover.

“Drunks can be a major problem if not caught and taken off the flight,” says Ludwig, one of our CabinCrew.com members. “You can tell a person who is drunk by his or her characteristics. I'm always proactive during boarding, once I know that a person is drunk I would have the person removed from the flight before the aircraft door is closed. It’s as easy as that if flight attendants are proactive during boarding!”

Making that decision can be tricky though. Generally if the passenger is drunk on arriving at the gate then the ground agent will ask the flight attendants if they will accept the passenger. The lead flight attendant will speak to the captain, who normally will leave it up to the flight attendant. If the person becomes drunk on board after drinking their own alcohol, then the captain can land at the nearest airport, offload the passenger and all costs are passed on to the passenger – costs for landing and handling fees etc. If they cause a problem on landing into the UK they will be met by the police, as under the air navigation order it is an offence to be intoxicated on board an aircraft, as is drinking your own alcohol on board.

“Usually in all international airlines there is a limit to what is given to the passenger in terms of alcoholic beverages,” says another of our members. “That means the bar on board is controlled by the cabin crew and if behaviour turns bad due to passenger mood the answer is still to get them off the flight.”

One British Airways cabin crew member says problems can arise when passengers who are already drunk want to order more drinks while flying. “This can be really tough particularly on long haul flights,” she says. “We tend to politely say ‘why don’t you have a coffee now or a soft drink, and maybe we can serve you something stronger in a few hours’. Often it’s a case of trying to get them to settle down, and ideally sleep it off.”

Training to deal with situations like these often falls under general security training, while a few airlines have special training modules focused on the issue of drunk and possibly dangerous passengers. CabinCrew.com member Vaishali says she’s never had special training but thinks that good crew management and teamwork can overcome problems during flights. “Off-loading the passenger in the first instance is best. Making the right decisions involves the flight attendants, pilots, ground staff, security, and sometimes even other passengers.”

Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken. In 2010 Russian airline Aeroflot introduced a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol in economy class on selected routes. It said it had targeted routes infamous for heavy drinking and loutish behaviour and reported a "significant drop" in the number of alcohol-related incidents as a result.

One of our members Mohaz commented on our Facebook discussion: “At Qatar Airways we have no special training but we know what to do. We handle over-refreshed passengers by treating them as small children!”

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Photo: Daquella Manera