In the week that a parliamentary select committee has advised restricting alcohol sales at airports, The Independent's travel team recall their worst experiences of drunks on a plane.
Helen Coffey, deputy head of travel
Once, on an after-work easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Palma Mallorca, my friends and I were unfortunately seated behind a row of extremely inebriated young men. It was obvious they’d been drinking heavily at the airport, but they continued to order more alcohol throughout the two hour and 20 minute flight (some of which they spilt between the seats and onto my lap, what joy). I spent the entire flight tensely gripping the armrests while a friend whispered soothingly, “It’ll all be over soon” – like the woman in Titanic says to her son before, presumably, they both die horribly in the Atlantic. The worst part was that the flight attendant, instead of trying to calm them or curb their excesses, practically egged the guys on. Like a teacher who desperately wants to be “friends” with his pupils, he kept trying to join in as they shouted and jeered, irritating an entire plane-load of people. “Boys will be boys!” he simply answered when someone complained.
Simon Calder, travel correspondent
Only from 1988 onwards was it was possible to board a non-smoking flight from a UK airport. In that year British Airways started experimenting with the novel concept of banning cigarettes on some departures to a very few locations such as Vienna and Los Angeles. As any aviation security expert will tell you, many incidents of “air rage” have nicotine deprivation as one of the causes — especially among travellers who compensate for being unable to smoke by increasing their consumption of alcohol. But trust me: behaviour on board planes was equally bad in the Eighties.
The travel experience was much more arduous than today, partly because planes didn’t have the legs to reach the Far East non-stop from the UK — and inflight entertainment was terrible. Add unlimited free alcohol, and the results were not pretty. As a smoker at the time, I have to say that the smoking section was always the more active and interesting.
On one memorable flight from Heathrow via Bombay (now Mumbai) to Hong Kong, two individuals who began the journey as solo travellers were very much a couple by the second leg, making their own invigorating inflight entertainment regardless of the other passengers. But our attention was mostly directed towards two businessmen from the Midlands, who were on a sales trip to China. They were clearly unhappy that their firm had put them in economy; every so often a stream of expletives cut through the haze of smoke and alcohol they had created. When the passenger in front had the temerity to recline his seat, a stand-up fight nearly ensued, and the flight engineer (yes, this was a long time ago), was eventually summoned to read the inflight riot act. Yet despite the pair continuing to smoke all the way during the spectacular descent to touchdown at Kai Tak airport, they were allowed to walk, or stagger, away, to fly the flag for British exports.
Julia Buckley, acting head of travel
I’ve had a few drunk passengers in my time, from the two men going to Budapest on easyJet the year before last who refused to sit down for landing and started shouting about the plane being shot down when the cabin crew passed round a collecting tin for Syrian refugees, to the young Chinese man on a BA flight to Shanghai who over-indulged on the in-flight wine and started flailing about, until one of the stewardesses strapped him in and talked to him till he passed out.
But my all time least favourite drunk passenger has to be my neighbour from LA to Heathrow on Air New Zealand a few years back. We were in a row of two – he was going home from a business trip, I was moving back after 18 months in America. We made polite conversation for a bit, which meant the cabin crew assumed we were together; then when the drinks trolley came round, he asked for scotch on the rocks and the guy from cabin crew poured him a full geezer-to-geezer tumbler of it. Obviously my neighbour necked it, then started on the wine, and by the time it hit him, he could barely speak and kept grabbing my arm to get my attention and slur at me. The cabin dude seemed to find it amusing, thinking we were a couple; when he passed out I thought I was safe, until he started twitching and punching the seat in front. By the time he sobered up, somewhere over Ireland, he was so embarrassed that he ignored me for the rest of the flight. It was a long 11 hours.
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