What Were They Thinking? Worst Drinking-on-a-Plane Incidents

An exploration into the perils of sky-high alcohol consumption.

ByColumn By Rick Seaney, CEO of
September 28, 2011, 11:46 AM

Sept. 29, 2011 — -- You know something's up when a US Airways flight attendant makes an announcement reminding passengers to "please keep your clothes on." That actually happened a couple of years ago.

Similar warnings would have come in real handy many times since then, thanks to flyers getting naked on planes, or at least partially disrobing. Not so surprisingly, such behavior often involves our old friend alcohol.

I enjoy the occasional in-flight cocktail, but sometimes you have to wonder: is it time to ban alcohol on planes? Take a look at the examples below and you tell me.

I'm also going to mention some "exciting" developments in the wonderful world of soft drinks, so grab a glass and keep reading.

For more travelnews and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

What follows is a list of "Don'ts" for successful plane trips. Let's start with, don't drink so much that you get kicked off the plane. It happens.

In August, a BMI flight to London had to turn back to Russia after a woman began performing an erotic dance in the cabin shortly after the 7a.m. takeoff. According to the Moscow Times, the woman was drunk. By the way, there was also a naked man aboard an Iberia flight in July, but his motivation remains unclear as he consumed no alcohol.

That was not the case with a 25-year-old woman during a Virgin Atlantic flight last month who reportedly downed nearly a pint of whiskey before allegedly grabbing a flight attendant and demanding he have sex with her. At least one UK newspaper described the woman as a teacher.

Then there was the New Zealand man heading to Singapore in June on a Jetstar flight. He too was reportedly drinking heavily when he decided he had to "go," and go he did -- all over the aisle and fellow passengers. He later apologized but said he remembered none of it.

I suspect an 18-year-old skier aboard a JetBlue flight in August would like to forget his lavatory lapse. The teenager also let loose in the aisle after reportedly indulging in pre-flight alcohol and was taken into custody at New York's JFK International Airport. The gifted Olympic hopeful was kicked off the U.S. Ski Team's development squad.

That same month we also heard about Gerard Depardieu's hijinks on an Air France flight. The actor was told not to use the lavatory as the plane was about to take off so, he didn't -- and soon the aisle was overflowing. According to news reports, Depardieu blamed a bad prostate; a fellow flier reportedly blamed vin ordinaire.

This is nothing new. A former pro wrestler recalled (rather hazily) a 1997 flight in which he blacked out from booze and woke up in a jail cell in Anchorage, Alaska. The charge: urinating on a flight attendant. We understand he has since conquered his demons.

It's enough to make one nostalgic for "bad passengers" of yesteryear, like the inebriated woman who, when she was cut off by United flight attendants, started in on the lavatory's supply of hand-sanitizer (yes, some of these products contain alcohol). But at least there was no mess in the aisle.

Speaking of which, I have to take issue with Esquire's article, How to Drink on an Airplane, which states, "The window seat is the preferred drinking seat." I think the rest of us prefer to see drinking passengers on the aisle, as close to the lavatories as possible.

None of this is really amusing. Alcohol-related incidents can delay or divert flights, which cost us all time and cost the airlines mega-bucks. It can cost much more, too, depending on who is doing the drinking.

In March, authorities in India released a report noting that 56 pilots flying a variety of Indian airlines failed alcohol tests over the last two years. More chilling: a Russian official announced this month that the navigator of a passenger airline that crashed in June, killing 47 people, was drunk.

Over-indulging passengers are not always mere annoyances, either. A 32-year-old Arizona businessman who'd reportedly been drinking before and during his British Airways flight in August allegedly brandished a shard of glass, made threats against the crew and has since been sentenced to jail.

I could go on and on, but you get it. Drinking too much makes some people do stupid things. And these days, the whole world is watching via social media.

For more travelnews and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

You've seen the "drunk photos" on Facebook but a new wrinkle is "TUI" (tweeting under the influence). In June, a tweet purportedly from the account of an Arizona Cardinals football player proclaimed, "im on this plane tipsy as hell!"

Most flyers don't get fried. I've seen polls showing soda is far and away the beverage of choice, but maybe that's because it's free. (For the most part -- not on the airline proclaimed the King of the Cheapskates; Spirit Airlines charges you three bucks a Coke and the same for a bottle of water. US Airways tried that back in 2008 but quickly restored its complimentary beverages when other airlines did not jump on this particular fee wagon. )

Meanwhile, in-flight energy drinks like Monster are becoming extremely popular. I recently saw a comment on Southwest's blog from a passenger whining about how he couldn't use his free drink coupon for the super-caffeinated beverages ($3 on Southwest).

By the way, those old "never expire" drink coupons taking up space in your wallet? Toss them. Southwest changed the rules and they're no good anymore.

As for me, the last thing I want on a plane is extra energy or anything that makes me want to run up and down the aisles, but now comes word of an alternative called Koma. Actually, it's full name is Koma Unwind, a new soft drink that will soon be available on USA3000 Airlines (a regional/charter carrier headquartered in Pennsylvania). As the website says, Koma will "calm your mind, body, and soul…the ultimate chill without the pill."

I can think of some obnoxious passengers I'd love to put in a Koma.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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