Following a series of incidents involving boozed-up passengers, Ryanair, one of the world's largest international carriers, has recently called for a restriction on the number of alcoholic beverages passengers are allowed to consume pre-flight. The airline is asking airports to impose a two-drink limit per boarding pass, and a total ban on alcohol sales before 10am.
Disruptions, delays and even diversions to offload drunk and aggressive passengers have been a problem in the skies over the past decade, and it's getting bigger. A BBC investigation revealed a 50 per cent rise in the number of people arrested on British flights in the year ending February 2017 over the previous year.
Three strikes and you're grounded. That's forever. Should solve the problem, no?
In one case that attracted wide media attention, Robertas Bajalis, a Ryanair passenger flying from Latvia to Manchester, grabbed a passenger's breast and a flight attendant's bottom, assaulted the leading flight attendant and generally let his inner vampire off the leash. In preparation for the flight, Bajalis had downed half a bottle of vodka and four pints of cider. That was on top of the bottle of champagne, whisky shots and more cider drunk the night before as he celebrated his departure. Manchester Magistrates' Court was told Bajalis couldn't remember any of his behaviour, which surprised nobody, and failed to sway the magistrate, who imposed a good behaviour bond.
In the inflight drunk and disorderly department, Australians have notched up some world-class performances.
In 2016, five Australian men were taken into custody in Bali and returned to Australia after a drunken brawl aboard their Sydney-Phuket Jetstar flight forced the plane to land on the Indonesian island. Video footage showed the men quaffing beers in the departure area of Sydney Airport before the flight, sobriety having quit the scene.
Two years before, a drunk passenger on a Virgin flight from Brisbane to Bali tried to enter the cockpit, causing the closure of Denpasar's Airport, with a code red security alert.
The scale of the problem
If your flight is enlivened by an escapade like this you won't forget it in a hurry, but how common is it?
While figures for Australia are not readily available, a total of 387 people were taken into custody, accused of being drunk and disorderly on flights in Britain the year ending February 2017. In the year 2016, more than 200 million air passengers passed through British airports. Therefore the rate of arrest for drunkenness was less than one for every half million flyers. In Australia as well, you've got to dig deep into the news files to find examples of spectacularly bad and offensive behaviour on the part of drunk passengers.
Is Ryanair's proposal even workable? A two-drink limit per boarding pass might have curbed Latvia's Robertas Bajalis, yet Ryanair has zero chance of telling Riga Airport what it can and can't do regarding the service of alcohol. Drunk passengers? That's Ryanair's problem. And from an airline that makes a nice profit from alcohol served on board – a glass of prosecco for €7, glass of wine for €6, shot of gin or rum for €5.60 – asking airports to curb alcohol sales is a bit rich.
The party zone problem
A lot of the problems Ryanair experiences with plastered passengers occur on flights to and from Ibiza and Alicante, two of Europe's premier party destinations. Flights from Britain to both are relatively short. There's limited time for getting lathered inflight, but most of the offenders are passengers who load up pre-flight, in the airport's bars. Another facet of the problem is passengers swilling duty-free alcohol on board the flight, something all airlines rail against, and one aspect of the inflight experience Ryanair has been keen to stamp out.
Last year the airline banned passengers departing from Manchester and Glasgow from boarding flights to Ibiza and Alicante with duty-free liquor, but anecdotal evidence suggests the ban is not rigorously enforced.
Rowdy, shouty and smelly – but a long way short of threatening. There are plenty of passengers with one too many under their belt, and this everyday category of intoxication is the real focus of the Ryanair campaign. Substitute Bali and Phuket – two of our own preferred party zones – for Ibiza and Alicante and you have a shadow of Ryanair's problem – and from Australia, these are much longer flights.
Score a seat near the carousing hens' party or the footie team en route to an end-of-season booze up and your flying experience may be heading for the trough. And in the confines of an airline cabin, there's no escape.
Nothing wrong with a pre-flight drink or two and whatever floats your boat at mealtimes. Bonhomie is fine, and for most passengers who imbibe that's the probable outcome, followed by an inclination to fall asleep and snore. But when it crosses the line into anti-social behaviour and inflicts pain on other passengers, it's time to call time.
How about this? If you get loaded, cause a fuss and inflict grief on other passengers and flight crew, you're in the sin bin. Blacklisted, banned from all airline flights. Minor offence six months, major and it's one to three years. Three strikes and you're grounded. That's forever. Should solve the problem, no?
See also: The rules of serving alcohol on planes