Flight Attendant Serving a Drink

Something in the air – but not safety

Do you ever wonder why airline staff bother to go through the safety routine these days? So few passengers seem to watch or listen. It does seem redundant to be shown how to buckle and unbuckle your seatbelt as though you haven’t travelled much by motor car, and as though you’re not sitting buckled up already.

If you ask the flight attendants, they’ll mention there is a legal obligation for the airline to do everything possible to ensure the safety of passengers and crew in case of an emergency. So it’s a matter of staying buckled up, knowing your lifejacket is under or beside your seat, placing your hand luggage in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front, and keeping the aisles free of obstacles.

That’s in case you have to depart the aircraft in a hurry, and in that case you’ll be leaving your hand luggage behind. In an emergency you want the staff to get you and your family and friends out as fast as possible. That’s why safety comes first, before everything else.

Except when it comes to alcohol. You might think having intoxicated people on a flight is the last thing the crew want to handle in an emergency – people who are argumentative, passed out, falling over, blocking the way to an exit, confused, unable to undo their seatbelt.

Over the weekend an Australian sportsman of some renown was involved in an altercation mid-flight and passengers reported he appeared to be intoxicated. He did need to be assisted from the aircraft and was photographed in a wheelchair post-flight. He may or may not have been drinking mid-flight but it’s hard to imagine he got drunk on the one-hour flight.

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Last year GrogWatch reported on several incidents where aircraft had to turn around and return to their home port after the flights were disrupted by drunken passengers. We said then we don’t understand why airlines put everyone at risk by allowing intoxicated people to board aircraft if safety is everything. We wonder if they should serve alcohol on board, if safety is everything.

In liquor licensing terms, aircraft in mid-flight are in no-man’s land – the normal licensing rules don’t apply as they are not bound by any liquor licensing agency. The airlines make up their own rules. Airline staff are the only people who can sell or supply alcohol to intoxicated patrons without breaking the law.

It might be fun for passengers to have a drink a mile up, but it probably won’t be fun to have passengers high in an emergency – especially as everyone on the flight will be depending on everyone else to do the right thing at the right time.

Australian commercial airlines have a second-to-none safety record, but they should stop telling us safety is everything when clearly it’s not, as they continue to let intoxicated people either board the plane or become intoxicated while on the plane.