Calm before the storm: the Wizz Air plane forced to abandon a landing
Calm before the storm: the Wizz Air plane forced to abandon a landing

Why the era of drinking and flying could be over

The traveller’s maxim – walk quickly in the opposite direction from any trouble – is impossible to achieve on an aircraft

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 17 May 2019 15:41

You may know the feeling a minute or two before landing. The aircraft seems to quieten, your ears give a final gentle pop, and the warehouses and car parks that congregate around an airport quickly approach.

Had you been on Wizz Air flight 2208 from Luton to Budapest on Thursday evening, you may also have been contemplating a late supper and a glass of something red and robust beside the Danube.

But as we all subconsciously braced for the bump when the Airbus A320 reconnected with the earth, touchdown and dinner were postponed. The engines suddenly roared into life, the plane climbed steeply and the undercarriage retracted.

On the only other occasion when I have experienced a “go-around” like this, flying British Airways from Heathrow to Dusseldorf, the reason was the obvious one: another aircraft occupying the runway. The captain calmly explained the issue, and 10 minutes later we were safely on the ground.

On Wizz Air, though, the approach was aborted because of a threat within the plane itself. A drunk and disruptive passenger decided he was going to use the toilet as the aircraft prepared to touch down, even thought everyone needs to be strapped in a seat for landing. The crew had no choice but to tell the captain the cabin was not secure and request a go-around.

Then things got chaotic. As the cabin crew ordered the offender to sit down, a bunch of other passengers decided they would sort him out. Beery belligerence quickly accelerated from insults to punches.

I was a dozen rows away, but the aggression was palpable and scary. One or two passengers of a burlier build decided they would “help” the cabin crew and lurched along the aisle to the scrum. With the cabin crew vainly shouting instructions, it had every appearance of degenerating into a mass brawl.

Meanwhile at the front of the plane, the pilots had their work cut out liaising with air-traffic control on a second approach, and were scarcely in a position to help. Eventually the desire for another drink sooner rather than later overcame the urge for violence. With some shoving and swearing, everyone sat down for a safe landing 30 minutes late.

At the gate, the perpetrators made it easy for the police to identify them: they were the ones who disobeyed the order for everyone to remain seated, and instead collected their bags from the lockers and swaggered to the aircraft door. As the officers led them down the steps, the atmosphere lightened.

These obnoxious people cost everyone half an hour and and Wizz Air a few hundred pounds in fuel. But it also did some harm to people who did not deserve it.

Young children, of whom there were a few on the flight, should never be exposed to a bar-room brawl, especially in the claustrophobic confines of an aircraft cabin. Anxious passengers were unsettled by the shock of a sudden extension of the flight and a burst of brutality. And cabin crew are there to keep passengers safe, not to break up fights. They should not face aggression when they go to work.

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Alcohol and aviation need not be mutually exclusive. Lots of travellers enjoy a drink after enduring the airport security experience, and perhaps another after take-off. But this nasty little incident could have ended with someone getting seriously hurt. To avoid a really serious incident, and possible repercussions, airports and airlines need to be serious enforcing the Air Navigation Order which states: “A person must not enter any aircraft when drunk, or be drunk in any aircraft.”

The traveller’s maxim – walk quickly in the opposite direction from any trouble – is impossible to achieve on an aircraft.

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