Andrew Vine: A nightmare at 30,000ft of air rage and ‘floozing’

Drunken behaviour on aeroplanes is becoming a growing menace - and danger - to passengers.
Drunken behaviour on aeroplanes is becoming a growing menace - and danger - to passengers.
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I WAS introduced to a new word for the first time the other day – floozing.

It’s a word that peppers the conversation of airline staff at this time of year as the holiday season moves into top gear, and comes accompanied with a roll of the eyes and weary shake of the head.

That’s because floozing is an ingenious marriage between “flying” and “boozing” to describe the sort of passenger who gets drunk before they board a plane and turns into a nuisance – or worse, a danger.

The cabin crew member who explained it to me is resigned to seeing a lot of floozing over the coming weeks.

She works on the routes between Leeds Bradford International Airport and the Mediterranean, holiday flights packed with people looking forward to their annual fortnight in the sun.

But among them every year are increasing numbers of tanked-up troublecausers, both male and female.

The sloppy drunks who doze off aren’t the problem. It’s the argumentative ones, who start squabbling with other people in their party, or the crew. Or the ones who light cigarettes in the toilet and set the smoke alarms off. Or shout abuse at other passengers who ask them to stop swearing.

Stag and hen parties are always regarded with a degree of trepidation by the cabin crew, because the whole aim of their break in Spain is to get paralytic, and they start drinking as soon as they reach the airport.

It has become routine on flights she’s been on for the captain to order that no alcohol be served, or each passenger limited to one or two drinks.

Less routine, but still happening more often, is for the police to be waiting when the plane lands to arrest a troublesome passenger.

That’s when floozing has tipped over into the altogether more menacing phenomenon of air rage, when it is not just frightening, but dangerous to have an aggressive passenger in the confined space of an aircraft at 30,000ft.

I once got caught in the middle of an argument between drunken members of a stag party on an aircraft. They were divided between the row of seats in front of me and that behind, and fell out over who had drunk most of a bottle of vodka being passed round.

It was horribly unnerving to have this argument raging over the heads of the three of us on the row, as fighting-mad drunks stood up shouting abuse.

The captain had to leave his cabin and threaten to divert the aircraft for an unscheduled landing to restore order, but the simmering air of tension for the remaining hour or more of the flight set everybody’s nerves on edge.

As the plane landed, there was a collective sigh of relief from the other passengers at being able to get out of the confined space and away from the yobs.

The scale of the problem is illustrated by the most recent figures for air rage incidents complied by the Civil Aviation Authority. They have quadrupled over the past three years.

And in the run-up to the election, the trade body Airlines UK produced a manifesto to help the industry which it would like to see the Government implement.

One of its requests was to make drinking alcohol bought at airport duty-free shops on board flights a criminal offence.

We have a worrying drinking culture in this country anyway, and turning up at any airport for an early-morning flight reveals one of its most revolting manifestations.

Seeing people swilling pints at 6am because having checked in, they now feel in the holiday mood, makes me shudder. So does seeing people come out of the airport duty-free shops and getting stuck into bottles of spirits because it’s cheaper than buying drinks in the bars.

It really is no surprise that this drinking at a time of day when people are simply not used to having alcohol results in problems for cabin crew and passengers a couple of hours later.

A new balance needs to be struck between the understandable desire of airports to maximise profits from shops and bars, and the imperative to ensure flights are neither blighted nor endangered by drunkenness.

It’s extraordinary that in an era when security is paramount at airports we have a situation where people are allowed to get into a state where they could potentially be a risk to safety.

Limiting the hours when bars are permitted to sell alcohol would be a start. And it surely wouldn’t be too difficult to introduce regulations that duty-free alcohol is sold in securely sealed bags that must be handed to cabin crew when boarding for storage during the flight.

Families heading to the sun should not have their flights made into ordeals because of drunkenness. Floozing is a word that could be lost from our vocabulary without any regrets.

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