Wary of high fliers, airlines seek alcohol ban at airports

IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways, GoAir tell aviation ministry that it isn’t always possible to identify drunk passengers before they board the flight, resulting in unpleasant and possibly dangerous situations in the air


Indian Aircraft Rules of 1937 prohibit any person under the influence from entering the aircraft. Photo: Bloomberg
Indian Aircraft Rules of 1937 prohibit any person under the influence from entering the aircraft. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Sick of high fliers, India’s airlines have asked the civil aviation ministry to bar the sale of alcohol at airports.

Airport operators, who make a significant amount of money by selling fliers one (or maybe more) for the road aren’t amused.

“We get so many cases of people getting drunk and creating a scene and harassing our crew,” said an airline official who did not wish to be named.

Airlines, including IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and GoAir that control about 80% of the domestic market, have told the aviation ministry that it isn’t always possible to identify drunk passengers before they board the flight, resulting in unpleasant and possibly dangerous situations in the air.

“Especially for our late evening flights we get at least one case of a drunk misbehaving passenger daily,” said a second airline official who declined to be named.

Indian Aircraft Rules of 1937 prohibit any person under the influence from entering the aircraft.

Delhi International Airport Pvt. Ltd, the company that runs Delhi airport, India’s largest, said it has no comments to offer on the subject.

Sale of liquor cannot be banned, said an executive who works for an airport operator. Several contracts, he said, have been awarded by airports for many years based on the clearances that prevail currently.

Vistara said it was in favour of responsible drinking.

“We believe customers should be given a choice to consume liquor in a responsible manner as is a practice in most parts of the world. However, we do not encourage excessive drinking and reserve the right to deny boarding to those who are inebriated, for their own safety as well as the safety and convenience of co-passengers,” a Vistara spokeswoman said.

The problem is not just limited to India. Incidents of unruly fliers rose 16% in 2015 from a year before, the International Air Transport Association, which represents 265 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic, said in its annual report on 28 September. Alcohol or drug intoxication was identified as a factor in 23% of cases, though in most cases, these were consumed before boarding or from personal supply without knowledge of the crew. The report recommended that staff in airport bars and duty-free shops must be trained to serve alcohol responsibly.

There are no easy solutions to this problem, said New York-based former Jet Airways CEO Steve Forte.

“Many passengers have a fear of flying and drink before a flight to overcome such feeling. Banning alcohol on the ground might increase consumption in-flight.”

“Drunk and belligerent passengers are very dangerous once an aircraft is airborne,” he added.

READ MORE