The Shocking Truth About Alcohol and Air-Rage

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Flying is already a stressful mode of travel for some, but many passengers take that stress to new heights with spontaneous outbursts of anger. Known as “air-rage,” these in-flight tantrums are a growing problem for airlines and passengers alike. In an effort to put an end to these disruptions, British airports are now being called upon to tightly regulate alcohol sales in the hopes of preventing problems in the air.

Alcohol-Fueled Outbursts

The United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority reported 114 incidents of disruptive passengers last year, compared to 85 in 2012 and 39 in 2011. These cases include activities that range from smoking in airplane lavatories to far more serious crimes, such as assaulting cabin crew members and making bomb threats.

Alcohol is a major factor in many of these instances, with “stag parties” drinking heavily in the airport lounge before boarding a plane. And while these air-rage moments are minimal compared to the two million flights that depart from the United Kingdom each year, they still pose a major inconvenience for the passengers affected by them.

Anger and Alcohol

Oftentimes, those responsible for in-air outbursts later claim they “blacked out” leaving them with no recollection of the damage. Unlike road rage incidents, however, cabin crew and pilots have specific protocols in place for handling this kind of emergency.

Many of those responsible for in-air outbursts claim they “blacked out” leaving them with no recollection of the damage. Similar to instances of “road rage,” alcohol can spark or heighten episodes of anger due to lower levels of inhibition and awareness when intoxicated. Many of those responsible for in-air outbursts claim they “blacked out” leaving them with no recollection of what took place. Unlike road rage incidents, however, cabin crew and pilots are trained to follow specific protocols during instances of air rage.

Airports are now being advised to impose harsher restrictions on alcohol sales in their departure lounges. Nathan Stower, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, told The Times that “pubs, bars and restaurants in the U.K. and overseas must all play their part” in preventing these incidents. Harsher fines could also be imposed as a way to deter this outlandish behavior.

Air-Rage and Penalties in the U.S.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported approximately 150 unruly passengers last year and more than 4,000 over the last 20 years. Similar to the United Kingdom, the majority of U.S. air-rage cases involve the use of alcohol.

Fines have been historically levied against these passengers, but a joint report from NBC News and USA Today found these fines were either drastically reduced or left unpaid due to substance abuse, mental health or financial issues. The FAA handed down over $1.5 million in fines between 2009 and 2013, but settled for less than half that amount.

China could be taking the most drastic measures to quell incidents of air-rage. Officials have recommended banning unruly passengers from all commercial flights in China, but haven’t made a concrete decision about the proposed “no fly” list. They have also considered prosecuting passengers for causing disruptions on a flight or violating blacklist restrictions.

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