Danny Walters was smashed when he kicked a passenger in the head, fondled a flight attendant then threatened a copilot with a 3 1/2 inch knife on a flight to Charlotte, forcing an emergency landing.
So was Gary Lee Lougee when he tried to push a flight attendant through an emergency exit on a Savannah, Ga., flight.
Gerard Finneran was, too, in that infamous episode when he defecated on a first-class food cart on a flight to New York.
At least one-quarter of all crew interference incidents are alcohol-related, according to the Air Transport Association. And the International Cabin Crew Association says the number of violent confrontations on flights has quadrupled since 1995.
The aviation industry has proposed stricter regulations-tagging problem travelers, tighter screening at the gate, tougher penalties-to rein in flying drunks.
But I think they’re overlooking an obvious solution: Just remove all alcohol from the planes. Stop serving booze. Ban it. Forbid folks from carrying it on board.
It sounds simple. Too simple.
Ridding planes of alcoholic beverages would make traveling more healthy and less hazardous, both to passengers and crew members. If the trade organizations and passenger advocacy groups really cared about the welfare of their constituents the way they claim to, they’d be fighting for an alcohol ban as vigorously as they did to extinguish smoking on domestic flights.
The Association of Flight Attendants does not support an in-flight prohibition. It argues that such a rule would be impractical, that travelers would just carry their own supply on to the plane.
But studies by the American Medical Association and others suggest that if you make it more difficult for people to get a drink, the number of alcohol-related problems decline over the long term. So while a hard-drinking passenger might occasionally be able to sneak a flask of hooch on board, the research implies that the number of violent incidents would drop significantly.
Banning drinking on board is different from prohibition on the ground. Besides the close, inescapable quarters, there’s the fact that in high altitudes just one drink goes straight to your head.
The cabin altitude is set between about 5,000 and 7,000 feet-meaning that there’s less oxygen to breathe. While your blood alcohol level remains the same as it would be at sea level, it feels as if you’ve drunk a lot more. Never mind that the cabin humidity is often less than 10 percent, and that alcohol dehydrates you.
I’ve sat next to a passengers who down one Bloody Mary after another until they pass out. Needless to say, these are not pleasant seat mates to have. I’ll acknowledge that some travelers get so nervous about flying that they need some kind of sedative to calm them, but the medical experts I’ve consulted say a couple of glasses of merlot is the wrong thing. A mild sedative would work far better.
A plane is not a bar. If someone drinks too much at my favorite tavern, we can push him out the door and call him a cab. Try doing that at 30,000 feet.
Fact is, an aircraft is a special place with special rules. Interfering with the crew is a federal offense. Smoking is a no-no on flights inside the United States. You can’t switch seats without permission, can’t use the bathroom whenever you want to, can’t leave unless you’ve got a death wish.
Another regulation for the sake of everyone’s health and safety wouldn’t be such a bad thing, really.
Will it ever happen? Probably not. Airlines are making too much money from duty-free carts and from selling beer, wine and cocktails at a staggering markup to economy class passengers-we’re talking $3 for a beer.
Travelers won’t go for it, either, because many of them think the right to drink on a flight is written into the Constitution. And so it will be up to the flight attendants-those overworked, underpaid, stressed-out flight attendants-to deal with the drunkards.