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Arrests of drunk passengers have spiked by 50 percent in the U.K. — but the issue is not strictly a British one.

Jess McHugh
August 14, 2017

Flying is a common fear, and many air passengers with flight jitters have reached for a glass of wine or a cocktail to ease their anxieties. That seemingly innocuous habit has grown out of control in the past year, however, according to a new report.

Arrests of drunk people on planes or in airports have spiked by 50 percent in the U.K., according to an investigation from the BBC.

Authorities arrested 387 people between February 2016 and February 2017, up from 255 the previous year. An anonymous survey of airline workers corroborated the results, with more than half of respondents saying they had seen disruptive, drunken passengers in U.K. airports.

The U.K. home office said it was "considering" taking steps to alleviate the problem, and Dublin-based budget airline Ryanair even suggested a crackdown on alcohol sales in airports. Ryanair called for airports to stop selling alcohol before 10 a.m. and to limit the number of drinks sold per boarding pass, The Guardian reported.

While U.S. data was not immediately available, the problem is far from being strictly a British one. A pilot tackled an unruly and drunken passenger on an American Airlines flight in 2016 after he attempted to pick a fight with a flight attendant. 

Common wisdom has long stated that people get drunk faster on planes, owing to the higher altitudes. There is little scientific evidence to support this claim, however, as the atmosphere inside cabins is highly regulated.

Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and great-granddaughter of columnist Emily Post, told Travel + Leisure that respecting personal limits is crucial, especially in the confined space of a plane.

"Anytime alcohol is involved it’s really important to know your limits and pay attention to them. In the air, especially, you’re very close to someone…who can’t get away from you. And they have very limited options if you over-drink," she said.

Airlines do have options for controlling unruly passengers before an arrest takes place. Southwest Airlines told T+L that all of their flight attendants are trained to notice signs of drunkenness, and that they can refuse to serve a passenger or even refuse to board someone if they appear inebriated.

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