Pundits are calling for a ban on booze from passenger planes, but taking away drinks would be a final straw writes the Herald Travel

COMMENT:

It's not your imagination. Air passengers are getting worse.

Almost one in every 1000 flights is affected by unruly passengers, according to the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

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And in almost all of these incidents, alcohol is to blame.

It seems obvious then that there is only a matter of time before airlines ban the bottle from flights all together.

Following the argument made by Kate Hawkesby's temperance column: they've done it for cigarettes in 1988, surely it's up to the airlines to ban the sale of alcohol from their planes?

However, before we do anything too hasty that'll effect the rest of the four billion passengers worldwide, I'd like to write in defence of the airplane drinks trolley.

Digging deeper into IATA's data, dealing with problem passengers may be more complicated than just shutting up shop on the flying bar.

Yes. There's a vested interest for airlines to keep the liquor flowing.

Half of all in-flight sales come from alcohol and they are reluctant to lose this valuable revenue stream.

However, on-board sales of alcohol are the most closely monitored (and meanly portioned) you'll find.

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Even the IATA agrees that the problem is unlikely to be in the 187ml miniatures served by cabin staff.

According Tim Colehan, Director of External Affairs at IATA, "the problem that we see is not alcohol that is served on-board the aircraft which is controlled by the cabin crew, but alcohol that's been consumed in airport bars."

Yes, the biggest factor in this rise of problem behaviour is passengers "under the influence" but this hasn't been helped by the "overly available" alcohol sales on the path from check-in to aircraft seat.

It's almost impossible to walk onto a plane without passing a point of sale for alcohol.
Duty free has become a crystal maze of bottles. Have you tried to fly through Auckland International lately? You almost have to buy a decanter of gin in order to get directions on to departures.

Then there is the obligatory departure lounge bar, full of delayed travellers with too much time and little else on their hands.

Eagle-eyed cabin staff are more than capable of keeping a check on how much their passengers have had.

Their biggest challenge is when an already sozzled passenger is allowed onboard.

Retired pilot Randall Flick, a retired pilot recalled an incident in The Washington Post when an intoxicated passenger "breezed past" the boarding age and straight onto his plane.

The air captain had to intervene and kick the unruly passenger off personally.

"I told him that he wasn't getting on his flight. I don't think he really understood," he said.

According to Flick, both the inebriated traveller and the gate agent are equally at fault here. Problem passengers should be stopped at the gate.

The IATA it's the problematic few "disproportionately affecting the safety and enjoyment" of the many.

The UK IATA has already introduced a "one too many" campaign to educate passengers on the possible repercussions and criminal fines they face boarding by a plane drunk. Airports there have even mooted tighter regulation on when alcohol can be served.

Taking away the drinks trolley on a 17 hour flight to Dubai would be one final injustice. You're just letting the winos win.

And if all else fails? I think it's time we introduce breathalysers on boarding.