Simon Calder: UK aviation's alarming index of inebriation

The man who pays his way

When sound engineers need to test a microphone, they traditionally ask the guest: "What did you have for breakfast?" If the question were posed to travellers stepping off a morning flight from Bristol, the answer might well be "A full English and a pint of lager".

Bar Zero 9 at Bristol airport invites passengers to "upgrade your breakfast". How do you do that, then? By drinking a pint of beer. The standard bacon, eggs, sausage, beans and tomatoes costs £8.50; pay a tenner and you can "add any pint of Fosters or Amstel". A pint for £1.50 in an airport bar? Cheers. Yet that is not the first early morning opportunity to buy cheap alcohol at Bristol or any other major UK airport. As soon as you clear security, you are confronted by row after row of strong liquor. The term "duty-free" is no longer accurate for most purchases at British airports; passengers heading for EU destinations pay the same rates of duty and VAT that applies at your local supermarket. Still, some travellers are tempted to buy booze, and decide to open their spoils on the plane, even though most airlines do not allow it. Other fliers can't wait that long, and "pre-load" before boarding.

The results can be ugly and potentially dangerous. You may recall a recent incident in which a Virgin Australia plane transmitted an alarm that a possible hijack was in progress. The jet from Brisbane was, to quote one early report, "forced to land" at Bali – scene of two awful terrorist outrages in 2002 and 2005. It soon emerged that flight VA41 had been destined for the Indonesian island anyway, and that the "hijacker" was Matt Lockley, a plumber from Queensland. It was alleged he had attempted to enter the cockpit thinking it was the toilet. (If anyone should know the difference between a flight deck and a WC, a plumber should. Or, come to think of it, a pilot.)

Mr Lockley rejected reports that he had been drinking, blaming the episode on painkillers and emotional stress. But alcohol indisputably figures in many in-flight incidents, as Civil Aviation Authority data reveals. I have trawled through the "reportable occurrences" for 2011 and 2012; in almost half the cases where a trigger was stated, that trigger was drink – far more than any other cause. Next most common was mobile phone use, the subject in 8 per cent of cases.

It is depressingly easy to build a picture of a typical alcohol-fuelled incident. A passenger either boards the plane already intoxicated or sneaks their own alcohol on board. Cabin crew are the target of abuse in three-quarters of cases. Violence is used in one in 14 incidents. If the captain decides that the situation is dangerous for passengers or crew, he or she will divert so that the offender can be removed: expensive for the airline, inconvenient for other travellers. Two days before the Bali hijack-that-never-was, a flight from Munich to New York diverted to Dublin to offload a drunken passenger.

Disruption in the cabin creates danger beyond the people immediately involved. In the event of an emergency evacuation, every passenger needs their wits about them. And anything that distracts the crew from the safety of everyone on board is potentially hazardous.

Going through the CAA index of inebriation, there are plenty of cases where the pilots had to declare a "go-around": abandoning the landing because a disruptive passenger jeopardised a safe touchdown. While such missed approaches are normal manoeuvres for which flight crew are well trained, they add unnecessarily to the workloads of flight crew and air-traffic controllers.

A tonic for the moronic?

Should drinking, like smoking, be banned aboard aircraft? After the Bali incident, I posed that question on social media. Among the self-selecting respondents, those who want to carry on drinking outnumber – by five to one – people who believe drinking and flying do not mix.

"Don't spoil it for the rest of us – a G&T is all part of the experience," said one. Others called for existing laws to be rigorously enforced: "Lifetime bans for threatening aircraft safety may make people think twice."

Jennifer Vesey from Essex has a three-point manifesto to cut drink-fuelled incidents:

"1. Boarding pass to be stamped every time you buy a drink in the airport or on the plane, with a maximum number of units allowed.

"2. Entry to the aircraft refused at the gate if over the limit. On the plane, once you've hit the limit, no more drink.

"3. Duty-free alcohol to be delivered direct to the aircraft and handed over after the flight."

While these suggestions are considered, you might want to choose an airline on which alcohol is banned. For example, Kuwait Airways offers the only drink-free (as opposed to free-drink) flights from London to New York.

Smoke and ire

Some smokers who are anxious fliers turn to alcohol in a bid to calm their nerves. Others simply ignore the smoking ban.

From the solemn warnings during the safety briefing, you might imagine that anyone found tampering with smoke detectors in the on-board loo gets locked up for years (in prison, not in the aircraft toilet). In fact, the accounts contained in CAA data suggest that offenders who interfere with safety systems may face nothing harsher than a stiff ticking-off.

The CAA describes a typical case aboard a UK-registered 747: "Passenger found to have tampered with a toilet smoke detector, with wet tissues stuffed in the detector. Cigarette smell noted." What was the punishment for jeopardising the safety of a Jumbo-load of passengers and crew? The culprit was "given a stern warning".

News
people And here is why...
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?