Alcohol is free on most long-haul flights, and usually flight attendants are happy to provide passengers with as many drinks as they request.
However, cabin crew are the final line of defence when it comes to drunk passengers. They are responsible for the safety of the rest of the people on the plane, so it’s up to them to use their judgement to decide if someone has had enough to drink.
If they think more alcohol might lead to an escalation of bad behaviour, the person will be cut off.
They are trained to spot intoxicated passengers as they board the plane, or people who try to avoid eye contact at the doors.
This information is then shared between attendants shortly after take-off.
A flight attendant told The Telegraph that cabin crew carefully judge a person’s drunkenness before allowing them alcoholic beverages. As well as looking for slurring or swaying, attendants “watch for passengers who go to the bathroom more often than normal.”
They also know to keep an eye out for passengers who “switch between galleys when they ask for more, assuming the staff at both don’t share notes.”
Many airlines use a ‘traffic-light’ code, it reported. “Mellow and affable behaviour will put you into the green category, getting more loud and animated puts you in yellow – at which point a flight attendant will clock you and possibly offer you some water – and red means it’s cut-off time.”
One flight attendant told CNN Travel that some crew try to judge a person’s intoxication by engaging them in a humorous conversation. This also serves to keep them on-side and stop them becoming aggressive.
Kim Kaswinkel recalled a fellow attendant’s tactic: “She asked the gentleman who had a lot to drink, ‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ He said, ‘Oh honey, you’re beautiful,’ and she said, ‘You’re drunk, you’re cut off.’”
Flight attendants carefully judge a person’s drunkenness before allowing them more alcohol
Cabin crew are trained to spot intoxicated passengers as they board the plane
Another common strategy used to diffuse a potentially angry situation with a drunk passenger is to switch between crew members.
“A new face is new energy, and even though they may tell that person the same thing I told them, they don’t already have that feeling like I don’t like them or I’m trying to be controlling,” flight attendant Heather Poole explained to CNN.
Flight attendant Amar Rama told a Quora forum that drunk passengers have the potential to put others in danger if there is an emergency.
“In the event we may need to evacuate the aircraft, the goal is to do so in 90 seconds, and I don’t want to unnecessarily risk my life or the life of others because a drunk or high person is being uncooperative.”
The UK government recently confirmed it was considering making it harder to drink freely while in the air.
Flight attendants watch for passengers who go to the bathroom more often than normal
One change MPs are considering is prohibiting any duty-free alcohol to be opened until a passenger reaches their destination.
At present, it is not against the law for flyers to drink their own alcohol onboard.
There have also been calls to impose limits on the amount of drinks a person is served, or to limit free drinks to one or two, after which passengers are charged.
Many people don’t realise it is against the law to be drunk in the air and could be punishable by up to two years in prison, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
In April, a Ryanair passenger was fined £2,500 after a flight headed for Tenerife had to divert back to the UK due to his drunken antics.