Cabin crew have demanded action to curb alcohol- and drug-fuelled air rage, after Civil Aviation Authority figures revealed that serious incidents on UK airlines are running at an average of one a day.
Q Is there such a thing as a "typical" case of air rage?
Every incident is different, but most involve alcohol as a contributory factor. A passenger typically boards an aircraft after having several drinks, and proceeds to consume more on board –either provided by the cabin crew or surreptitiously swigged from duty-free bottles. Their behaviour may be exacerbated by drugs. They then become loud and aggressive, and may threaten cabin crew and other passengers.
Cabin crew are trained to deal with disruptive passengers and to warn them of the consequences of their actions, which in many cases helps to calm the situation. But if the behaviour persists, the aircraft may be diverted and the perpetrator arrested.
Drunkenness and disruption in the cabin creates a possible risk for everyone – distracting the crew from their normal safety duties, and causing a hazard in the event of an emergency evacuation when every passenger needs their wits about them.
Q What does the law say – and does it have much effect?
Aviation law forbids anyone boarding an aircraft when drunk, or becoming drunk on an aircraft. Airlines have the right to refuse to carry passengers that they consider to be a potential risk to the safety of the aircraft. But the rule is widely flouted. In February, for example, a brawl broke out aboard a Ryanair flight from Luton to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. Six men on a stag outing were arrested when the plane diverted to Berlin. Such events cause distress and inconvenience for passengers, and expense for the airline.
Q Are some flights more likely to experience disruption than others?
Flights to and from "party" destinations, such as eastern European capitals, Las Vegas and Ibiza, seem to have more than their fair share of disruptive passengers. This week four drunk and abusive women were removed from a Monarch flight to Ibiza at Manchester airport. But reports of their condition suggests they should not have been allowed on board in the first place. Monarch sends out notices by email ahead of flights to the Spanish island, warning against turning up drunk for a flight, and Ryanair bans Ibiza-bound passengers from taking duty-free alcohol on board.
Q So should alcohol be banned from airports and flights?
Not necessarily. Many passengers enjoy a drink at the airport or on board a plane and cause no problems. Travellers setting off on holiday or returning from a business trip often regard alcohol as an essential part of the experience. And for some passengers who are fearful of flying, or smokers who are denied cigarettes, a drink (or two) is regarded almost as a necessity.
Alcohol is also very lucrative for UK airports – which have no restrictions on when they can serve alcohol. Last time I flew out of Bristol airport at 7am I was invited to "upgrade" my breakfast for an extra £1.50. The upgrade comprised a pint of strong lager.
Budget airlines make money from drink sales, while “full-service” carriers see offering a range of beer, wine and spirits as an important part of their product.
Q What could and should be done to tackle air rage?
Lord Ahmad, the aviation minister, is looking at ways to reduce the occurrence of alcohol-fuelled air rage. Measures that are being considered include marking boarding passes to limit the number of drinks a passenger can have at the airport – though that would be ineffective for travellers with the boarding pass on a smartphone, or for those who printed out multiple copies. More effective – but also controversial – would be stringent checks at the departure gate, possibly involving breath tests for passengers suspected of being drunk.
There could also be greater controls on airport lounges, where travellers can pay a flat fee and drink an unlimited amount. "Passengers need to be made to understand that tanking yourself up in the terminal isn’t going to get your holiday off to a good start," a senior member of cabin crew for a budget airline told The Independent.
Q And in the air?
To stop travellers surreptitiously drinking their own supplies in flight, duty-free drink could be sealed in a "security tamper evident bag" (known in the trade as a "STEB"), making it tougher for passengers to open and consume alcohol. There could even be a check at the end of the flight to identify anyone who has broken the seals.
Alternatively, duty-free drink could be banned completely from "problem" flights. Aviation safety experts believe that duty-free on arrival rather than on departure would be a much safer concept – as well as reducing the amount of weight being unnecessarily flown around the world.
Some aviation security experts say what’s needed is more resolve by airlines to recover costs of diversions from the offenders, who could face bills of tens of thousands of pounds, providing a deterrent to others.
At present many perpetrators just get a written warning from the airline.
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