Alcohol plays role in many air rage incidents

So many alcohol stories in the news last month – it’s hard to keep up!  This was a feature on Atlanta News about how big a role alcohol plays in many air rage incidents.

People get on a plane for all kinds of reasons: work, a wedding, a family vacation or funeral. Mix all that with alcohol, cramped quarters and too much baggage and sometimes the skies aren’t so friendly.

According to a USA Today investigation, it often starts with a drink. One drink that becomes three or four, made worse by the altitude.

Peter Ivanhoff admits that the fun turned into a fight during his flight from Alaska to Oregon. According to an FAA report, it got so bad that the flight crew locked down the cockpit.

In a review of FAA reports, we found one quarter of fine-able incidents stemmed from alcohol use.

Federal investigators say Joe Hundley had been drinking when he used a racial slur and slapped a crying toddler. The baby’s mother was shocked.

Hundley’s attorney says he was flying to Atlanta to take his son off life support. Still, a federal judge gave him 8 months in prison.

But a disruption doesn’t just impact one person, it can impact the entire plane if it’s re-routed or delayed. Safety is always a concern. The FAA often uses fines as a deterrent, which can be as high as $25,000.

“Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders, and they expertly deal with conflict every single day,” said Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO.

Some say public shame is the best deterrent. Video posted on social media showed a woman forcibly being removed after crew members say she refused to turn off her cell phone.

Nelson has a few ideas on how to deter bad behavior.

“Perhaps they have to go through special hoops before they can even fly or to maybe be banned from flying for a certain amount of time,” Nelson said.

USA Today says the FAA issued nearly a million dollars in fines in just five years, but settled for about half of that. Flight attendants say they often turn to other passengers for help, hoping peer pressure will bring the person back in line.


And then we had some news from the UK too – courtesy of  the BBC and then again in The Telegraph:

Air Rage 2014

  • 29 January – Passenger became verbally and physically aggressive. All passengers offloaded after cabin became unruly and uncontrollable.
  • 14 February – Passenger physically assaulted a cabin crew member when asked to stop consuming alcohol and trying to light a pipe during cabin secure descent. Passenger restrained by crew and two passengers. Authorities met aircraft on arrival. No further action taken.
  • 4 June – Party poppers used onboard aircraft.
  • 17 July – A male passenger removed all his clothes and tried to open an aircraft door. He refused to put his clothes back on and was had a blanket put around him by other passengers.
  • 23 July – Mayday declared and aircraft diverted due to disruptive passengers fighting
  • 28 August – Passenger attempted to vacate aircraft during flight.
  • 9 December – a passenger consuming his own alcohol became abusive, attempted to light a cigarette and had to be restrained by four crew members using cuffs and straps. He remained loud, offensive and threatening until the plane landed.

The number of passenger disturbances on UK flights has tripled over the past three years.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says the “majority” of cases were down to alcohol.

There were 114 incidents in 2014 compared to 39 in 2011.

The CAA said “it is a specific criminal offence to be drunk on board an aircraft, and also to refuse to comply with instructions from the captain”.

The number of incidents is only seven fewer than the number in the whole of the US last year. 121 were recorded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But despite the big rise in recent years, the CAA say the problem is not as bad as it was in the late 1990s when it peaked.

The chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, Nathan Stower, said “airlines set tough rules around the consumption of alcohol. Pubs, bars and restaurants in airports in the UK and overseas must play their part”.

In November a flight to Cuba from Manchester had to divert to Bermuda after Mohammed Khelya drank a bottle of vodka and threatened to kill everyone onboard.  It was his honeymoon.  The 22-year-old threatened the crew after he was refused permission to see his new wife, who moved seats to get away from him.  He was arrested and his wife continued on to Cuba. He was fined $3,000 (£1,900).

Fiona works as cabin crew for an airline in Nottingham.  She says there is sometimes “shouting and swearing and standing up in the middle of the cabin, dancing and swinging off the chairs.  If I went and did that in their house, ripping their carpets up and dancing on their sofas I don’t think they’d be too happy.”

I have certainly been guilty of drinking to excess on a flight where I’ve been heading on my holidays and have been in cabins when someone else has got drunk and arsy.  Not fun AT ALL!! Alcohol pervades everywhere and it’s effects are felt by us all …….

Edited to add: 26th June 2015

Unruly and drunken in-flight behaviour ‘now a serious problem’

Bad behaviour among airline passengers needs to be stamped out, airline says, while asking for banned passenger lists to be shared | Telegraph, UK

Edited to add: 10/07/2015

Alcohol-fuelled air rage incidents are up 40% from last year… proving ‘floozing’ phenomenon is on the rise

And more news 23/07/15

Ryanair bans duty-free alcohol on UK to Ibiza flights

And more news 19/09/15

Plane drunks could be banned from flying forever


Drunk passengers could be banned by airlines for life and booze sales limited on problem flights to tackle rife alcohol-fuelled air rage

Floozing just won’t go away (July 2016)

Possible changes to how alcohol is sold at airports hit the headlines following comments from a Conservative peer saying he wants to “look at” airports as currently exempt from licensing laws – thus being able to open 24 hours. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said he did not want to “kill merriment altogether”, but that passengers need to be responsible and not disrupt flights and others onboard. Increasing concerns have been voiced over ‘floozing’ and ‘air rage’ incidents over recent months. See the Independent’s ‘what you need to know’ and Guardian and BBC reports

Maybe it’s because it’s holiday season time? (August 2016)

The issue of alcohol and flights has been back in the news after recent speculation over a review of airport licensing exemptions. Budget airline claimed to be the first European airline to ban alcohol sales before 8am in a bid to tackle what it calls “disruptive and abusive behaviour”, a ‘bold’ move according to The Independent. Ryanair previously attracted coverage for banning alcohol on some flights to and from Ibiza.

But ‘does alcohol really cause air rage?’, explored The Guardian. The issue is complex; widespread availability in terminals, the complex relationship between alcohol and violence, and the unknown effect of high altitude on intoxication all add to the difficulty of pinning down an answer.

Meanwhile two pilots were arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol as they prepared to fly from Glasgow Airport to New York – BBC news. The Independent published an article exploring The truth about pilots and alcohol: the risks and the rules. Exact stipulations vary around the world, but airline rules typically stipulate a “bottle to throttle” gap of eight hours between the last alcoholic drink and reporting for duty.

And another article 18th September 2016:

Cabin crew have demanded action to curb alcohol- and drug-fuelled air rage, after figures revealed that serious incidents on UK airlines are running at an average of one a day.

Edited to add: 8th October 2016

The number of “air rage” incidents on UK airlines has quadrupled over a three-year period, reported BBC News. Civil Aviation Authority data shows there were 386 dangerous incidents in 2015 – compared with just 85 in 2013. Prompted by the data, the Independent looked into the issue of disruptive airline passengers and how it could ‘impact your next flight’. | Alcohol Policy UK

And this issue just refuses to go away! 14/08/17

Revealed: The growing problem of drunk and abusive fliers – and the worst routes for bad behaviour

Panorama: Plane Drunk


10 thoughts on “Alcohol plays role in many air rage incidents

  1. Even more of a reason to dislike flying 😉 You’re right, it’s everywhere! xx

    1. I love flying – but haven’t done it sober so I might feel differently! 😉 xx

  2. I can relate! I was one of those with rage. However, it was the absence of alcohol that sent me into a rage. I didn’t get in trouble with the airline or crew, but on this particular flight they could not serve beverages due to turbulence. I HAD to have a drink to reduce my flying anxiety. Then, we had to circle the airport for almost an hour! I was at my wits end not to mention the crying child behind me. I stood up and screamed “you’ve got to be f$&@*#% kidding me!!!” My whole family didn’t even act phased by this. Though, the lady with the child looked like a deer in headlights. So glad I have more control over my emotions these days!

    1. Hey Alissa Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s so interesting how the impact of our perceived need to drink affects us in different situations isn’t it? At least you know that’s never likely to happen again 🙂

  3. luckily flying was never a trigger for me… but then I do it so infrequently these days it wouldn’t be a problem even if it were! Xx

    1. It wasn’t a trigger for me either Prim but it will be weird flying sober for the first time just because of the associated memories 🙂 Here’s to flying again sometime soon – oooh even maybe together as we jet off to some tropical sober retreat, how does that sound? 😉 xx

    1. Thanks Wendy! Thanks for sharing that news story – hugely relevant and hope he gets prosecuted just like any of us would …..

Comments are closed.