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Sky’s the limit – how do you manage drunk passengers on planes?

Ally Murphy recalls her cabin crew days when she had to deal with alcohol fuelled incidents on long-haul flights

Ally Murphy

23 August 2018 – I used to dread flying to Las Vegas, I love the destination whilst I’m there, but as a cabin service supervisor for a long-haul airline, I knew that 70% of the time I’d have to shut the alcohol bars way before we landed. Sometimes this was only 4 hours into the 10.5 hour flight so I knew I’d have to be trapped in a tin box with some very unhappy people because of this.

Sometimes we would have to shut the bar simply because the passengers had drank it dry and (at the time) we need to save some for the passengers on the return flight. Sometimes we’d have to shut it because a certain group would be hammering it hard and it was a way to control the unruly bunch. It would upset pretty much everyone, some passengers hadn’t touched a drop yet and wanted a nice G&T mid afternoon but were denied because a small percentage had started drinking heavily before they’d even boarded the plane at 9am.

And this is a perfect example of how a small minority of passengers, can cause a big impact on the majority.

I flew for 14 years long haul. I saw a significant increase in the number of alcohol related incidents in my time and I feel a huge chunk of it is due to the society that we live in today. The society that believes to have a good time you have to be the craziest, the drunkest, the most outrageous. That to celebrate the impending marriage of two of your friends you must involve humiliation, debauchery and excess. The society that believes the customer is always right no matter how offensive or dangerous they are behaving and that aggression is the best way to get your own selfish needs met.

Going to work started to become something I dread. Would I be thrown up on today? Would I have to tell off grown adults? and tell full fare paying customers that their behaviour was not going to be tolerated? Would I be threatened because of this? Would I be physically assaulted? Would I be sexually assaulted? All of these worries may seem excessive but every single one of those situations happened to me and my colleagues, countless times. It started to become an expected part of my job.

As cabin crew, our primary duties are the safety and well being of an aircraft and its passengers. That comes above all. But when the service side of the job means that some passengers become a handful, it interferes with the much more important safety aspect. Having to deal with drunk passengers means that my attention is away from the security. That I might not notice a child choking, or someone passed out, or now in our world of terror, I could miss a real dangerous threat to the aircraft.

But how can we fix this? I believe that, like a perfectly smooth journey, we must all work together on this. The power needs to be given to airports, in whichever country an aircraft lands in, to take action on individuals who have caused safety and welfare issues. We need tougher punishments and to go through with them so people know that their excessive drinking comes with a substantial price to pay. We need more power given to airlines and airline staff to prevent incidents like this ever arising. Licensing laws should be even more important when the customer drinking is heading onto a plane where there is no quick access to emergency services that they may need to due to their consumption.

There will be some disgruntled people I am sure, but like when the smoking ban came into place, people will simply start to feel it’s part of normal life. As they realise that a minority may need to be unhappy that their guilty pleasure comes with limitations, if it means that the majority are safe, comfortable and can travel without fear.

Written by voiceover artist Ally Murphy, formerly cabin service supervisor at Virgin Atlantic.

All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.