How to Avoid Drunk Airline Passengers in 9 Easy Steps

How to Avoid Drunk Airline Passengers in 9 Easy Steps

avoid drunk airline passengers
photo credit: TC-JOK Turkish Airlines Airbus A330-303 via photopin (license)

This guide isn’t so much for you and I, the everyday airline traveler, but if I should be so bold, for the airlines themselves.  Afterall, I know how to avoid drunk airline passengers while flying, but I would prefer that all of the airlines had policies in place that they would actually enforce to prevent intoxicated passengers from flying near or next to me at all.

On my recent trip to Sedona, my flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix was one of the worst flying experiences of my life and that was due to passengers drinking to excess both before and during the flight.

So here are my tips and I hope the airlines are paying attention.


avoid drunk airline passengers
photo credit: waiting via photopin (license)

1. Stop allowing drunk passengers the ability to board a plane if they’re already intoxicated:  After my flight from Boston to Minneapolis, I walked a few steps inside the terminal to my next gate and found a seat to wait out the 90 minute layover for my next flight. The terminal was empty and yet this man felt the need to sit about two seats down from me. He found a seat and then proceeded to throw his backpack forcefully onto the ground and then began swearing. “Great,” I thought, “I have to deal with crazy today.” I was busy working on something and he asked me when the flight was taking off. I pointed toward the flight information at the gate and told him it was on the board at which point he got upset that I wasn’t talking to him began to mutter under his breath. For my own safety and peace of mind I decided to get up and move my seat and also advise a gate agent of his behavior.

2. “Grabbing a cigarette” doesn’t always mean “grabbing a cigarette:” If you suspect that a passenger is intoxicated and they get up to “smoke a cigarette,” “go to the bathroom,” or “go shopping,” you have to know that these phrases mean one thing and one thing alone: They’re most likely lying and are off to get another drink. I watched this questionable passenger leave his backpack unattended for a long period of time, like longer than 20-30 minutes, which is unusual in this post-9/11 world we live in today. When I mentioned this to another gate agent, she advised me he was “out for a smoke” and had asked another passenger to watch his bag at which point I told her he was either intoxicated and getting another drink or mentally unstable. Either way, I was feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being stuck with him inside an airplane at 30,000 feet.

avoid drunk airline passengers
BWI passengers” by Rudi Riet from Washington, DC, United States – Passengers await their flight calls. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3. If more than one passenger alerts you to another passenger’s behavior being erratic or questionable, please take them seriously. The flight attendant told me that there was an airline employee on my flight who was keeping an eye on him and that other people had shown some concern about him as well. If that’s the case, then why was he even being allowed to fly? According to the gate agent, she said that they couldn’t remove him from the flight based on passenger complaints alone. Sounds like the ground crew was leaving him and his bad behavior to the flight crew and that’s simply unfair.


avoid drunk airline passengers
Champagne anyone?

4. Once onboard the plane, refrain from offering passengers copious amounts of alcohol. There’s no reason to load passengers full up on alcohol because it will only result in bad behavior.  While some people know their limits, many don’t.  If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that this isn’t the first time I’ve written about alcohol and flying.

5. At the same time, don’t offer passengers with issues, mental or alcohol or otherwise, alcohol to keep them quiet. Every time you pacify a passenger with alcohol, especially those with bad behavior, you’re guaranteeing that everyone else will pay the price.

Ok so why mention this? Because on my flight to Phoenix I was seated next to someone who was a chatty Cathy and overly emotional.  Despite putting my earbuds in so she wouldn’t try to engage me in conversation, she did. She started crying after take off and the flight attendants were attentive and really sweet, even hugging her at one point. They then made the mistake of honoring her repeated requests for alcohol. The end result? The previously sad and emotional passenger seated next to me in row one was now angry and throwing silverware at the flight attendant.  So yes — alcohol makes crazy only more crazy.

avoid drunk airline passengers
photo credit: Business Class Inflight Meal – Dragonair via photopin (license)

6. Food Is Always Better Than Booze: Encourage food over beverages for those that are venturing into that dark hole of of drunkenness. Of course, you’ll probably want to avoid offering them wine with their meal.


avoid drunk airline passengers
photo credit: Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380 Business Class upper deck, Heathrow via photopin (license)

7. Provide Passengers with More Than In Flight Safety Information: While I sometimes feel like I’m the only one paying attention to the flight attendants demonstrating the safety information, maybe they could add something about those unruly passengers. For example, what to do in case another passenger becomes out of control so we would know what to do in case something were to happen.

8. How to Handle In-Flight Issues: Allow passengers to contact the airline directly via the in-flight WiFi for free.  By permitting instant feedback to the airline as something is happening, this would empower passengers to feel as though they are being heard and not ignored.

avoid drunk airline passengers
Austrian Airlines flight attendant and passenger” by Austrian Airlines ( Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

9. Give Flight Attendants More Power to Do Their Job: Should passengers become out of control while on a flight, permit flight attendants to do more than agree with the passenger to keep them quiet.  I don’t know what they could or should do, but maybe work together to humanely restrain said passenger? Just a thought.

I learned later while on the shuttle bus to the rental car center in Phoenix that the drunk lady next to me wasn’t the only problem passenger on board the plane. Remember the drunk swearing guy in the terminal? Apparently he was walking up and down the aisle during the flight with his electric razor looking for an outlet. Fun! Then some other lady wearing a belly dancing scarf around her waist spent her flight time running up and down the aisle of the airplane during the entire flight.

This was probably the worst flight I’ve ever had.  As someone that flies often with various airline carriers in both business class and coach, I couldn’t believe how helpless I felt and how ineffective the employees were with removing these passengers before the flight. This is why I patronize certain airlines repeatedly because they offer well trained flight attendants who know how to provide an effortless flight experience to all customers while helping me to avoid drunk airline passengers on the ground and in the air.  I would much rather choose an airline based on itinerary and price instead of how well trained their employees are to manage all types of situations, both on the ground and in the air.

Have you ever experienced a bad flight like this? Do you have any tips for the airlines on how they could help avoid drunk airline passengers?

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