By Mark Orwoll
June 26, 2013

Aeroflot has a drinking problem.

When reporters were duped on Monday into flying from Moscow to Havana on the Russian airline in hopes of interviewing National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the fugitive leaker was nowhere to be found. One passenger reported that the flight not only had no Snowden, it had "no turbulence and no booze." Seriously? No vodka?! On an Aeroflot flight?! It's true. The Moscow-Havana route is one of seven long-distance itineraries on which Aeroflot has banned alcohol in economy class. Why? Just watch the video above to get a sampling of the verbal assaults, fisticuffs, and other liquor-induced ill behavior seen on hundreds of Aeroflot flights every year. And now some legislators are considering even more stringent measures to stop the moonshine madness.

Aeroflot has a history of unruly passengers on international flights, many of whom buy alcohol in the duty-free shop and drink it on board, despite an Aeroflot prohibition against it. In 2010 Aeroflot outlawed the sale of alcohol in economy class on the seven long-distance routes with the most incidents, including flights to Havana, Shanghai, Bangkok, and four cities in the remote, sparsely populated Russian Far East. Now some Russian legislators, in the hopes of quelling continuing air-rage incidents, are considering a ban on duty-free alcohol sales at Moscow's airports. 

According to a report from Russia's Itar-Tass news service, in 2012 there were more than 1,500 drunken air-rage incidents on Russian airlines. More than two dozen of those involved passengers trying to open the plane's door during flight! Among recent incidents: a passenger who beat up a flight attendant after she told him not to smoke in the lavatory; a 28-year-old father who started a brawl that caused the pilot to make an unscheduled landing; and various broken noses, head wounds, and other injuries more to be expected in a mixed martial arts competition than on a holiday flight to tropical climes.

And it's not just the passengers, either. There are occasional reports of pilots being under the influence, including the fatal 2008 crash of an Aeroflot subsidiary Boeing 737 flown by an overworked pilot with alcohol in his system and a fatal 2011 crash of a RusAir plane caused, at least in part, by a drunken navigator.  

My Russian friend Katya, who lives in Moscow, points out that the flights on which alcohol has been banned are all longer than seven hours."Russians are famous because of their strong drinking habits," she says. "Just imagine how much alcohol it's possible to consume during seven hours!" 

A request for comment from the Aeroflot press office was not returned by the time this blog was posted. We'll update if we hear from them.




Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. You can follow him on Twitter @orwoll and Like him on Facebook