Intoxicated up to their eyeballs, drunk passengers have been frequently blamed for a dangerous and disturbing rise in unruly passenger incidents aboard U.S.-based airlines throughout 2021. The surge in inebriated and disruptive passengers has come about despite the fact that many airlines went dry for much of the pandemic and some carriers still aren’t serving alcohol for fear that it will encourage yet more unruly behavior.
That concern is backed up by another slew of fines slapped on unruly passengers by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday. The civil penalties, totalling $161,823 against eight passengers, have all been proposed for alcohol-related inflight misbehavior.
In fact, since the start of 2021, the FAA has received nearly 300 reports from airlines about unruly passenger behavior which was caused or connected with alcohol misuse. Some of those cases are linked to passengers pre-drinking in airport bars, while others were caused by passengers illegally drinking their own alcohol onboard.
Yet in one of the FAA’s highlighted cases, bringing back inflight alcohol service could actually help reduce the number of unruly passengers.
The passenger in question faces a $9,000 fine for shouting profanities and disrupting a United Airlines flight from Chicago, Ill., to Windsor Locks, Conn in February because flight attendants had no alcohol or snacks to sell him.
He continued to shout and curse out flight attendants even after they “led him to view the beverage cart to show no alcohol or snacks were available” according to the FAA report of the incident. Law enforcement was called to meet the aircraft on arrival.
Of course, serving alcohol to some passengers isn’t going to help an already fraught situation. Several American Airlines flight attendants found that out for themselves in March when a passenger on a domestic flight became combative and argumentative even after being served two alcoholic beverages.
Eventually, another passenger stepped in and backed up the flight attendants as they refused to serve him another alcoholic beverage, the FAA said.
Interestingly, though, American Airlines only services alcohol on international long-haul flights and in domestic First Class. Unruly passenger incidents, it has been frequently proved, do not just happen in the back of the plane.
Two of the unruly passenger incidents highlighted by the FAA on Monday again involved Southwest Airlines. The carrier has refused to bring back onboard alcohol sales after pressure from unions who fear the move would further fuel disruptive passenger incidents.
That, however, isn’t stopping passengers simply drinking their own alcohol onboard. Unregulated drinking could be making passenger behavior far worse than it would ever be if airlines started serving alcohol onboard.
That’s one of the reasons why FAA Administrator Steve Dickson wrote an open letter in August pleading with airport bars to stop selling to-go drinks to passengers. The message is yet to be fully heeded.
And the longer the pandemic-era alcohol bans continue, there’s the potential that a well-intentioned policy could make the situation a whole lot worse as passengers routinely switch to getting inebriated in airport bars and smuggling their own liquor onboard flights.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.