Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Alcohol in the Sky

Now that the holidays are here, many people will be flying home for the holidays. Along with the thousands of people in the airport, mechanical delays, and weather delays, most travelers will make it a point to stop by an airport restaurant and/or bar and have a drink or two.

This is great to have a beverage during a lengthy delay, but do remember that Federal Air Regulations 121.575, and 91.17 state that  "No certificate holder may allow any person to board any of its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated", as well as, "no pilot of a civil aircraft may allow a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs (except a medical patient under proper care) to be carried in that aircraft.

Alright, well those regulations are for restricting drunk passengers get onto the airplane, but what about while on the plane?  Believe it or not, the same FARs hold true, and when a passenger gets out of hand in-flight, they could be met by law enforcement upon arrival...something you don't want to have happen!  

So whose to blame if you get intoxicated while in-flight? Well, it actually comes down to the consumer.  Flight Attendants aren't bar tenders, and with all the other Safety Related things they need to worry about while working, a drunk passenger shouldn't be one of them.  

One thing people need to know about alcohol and flying, is it affects your body differently in the plane, than it does while on the ground. The cabin altitude is generally set between 5,000 and 7,000 feet-meaning that there’s less oxygen to breathe. While your blood alcohol level remains the same as it would be at sea level, it feels as if you’ve drunk a lot more. Never mind that the cabin humidity is often less than 10 percent, and that alcohol dehydrates you.

Over the years, there have been many issues where you may have heard about intoxicated passengers:

DUI in the SkyDrunk passenger gets jail time, has to reimburse AA $7,757, Court to decide whether Delta can be sued for alcohol sales to name a few.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't drink...by all means, DRINK, just drink moderately. Do remember that the altitude will affect your body differently than you would be at sea level, so be careful. Just because you normally drink 5 beverages at the bar, doesn't mean you can actually handle 5 beverages in the air. A plane is not a bar. If someone drinks too much at their favorite tavern, they can push that person out the door and call him a cab. Try doing that at 30,000 feet.

If your drink gets low, don't ever say “Hey, stewardess!”  The term “stewardess” and “steward” are widely considered to be archaic, if not derogatory. They are especially offensive if they’re used while, at the same time, you repeatedly press the flight attendant “call” button over your seat. Flight attendants are not airborne waiters. They are bona fide crew members who have undergone many hours of safety training. Yeah, they serve drinks but if the plane goes down, they can also save your butt.

To quote a selection from Christopher Elliott's page which highlight some idea's about alcohol on flights.

1. Alcohol heightens a stressful experience.
Unless you haven’t flown in a few years, you probably know that air travel is getting more stressful. Alcohol can make it worse, say experts. “Drinking on planes has unique hazards, particularly as flying becomes more stressful,” says Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist who teaches at the University of Southern California. “If there is a long delay on the tarmac the irritation can be magnified by alcohol.” At a bare minimum, passengers need to be sober enough to understand and cooperate with crew instructions. “Under increasingly stressful conditions, too much alcohol can make a simple annoyance into a serious problem,” she adds.
2. There’s nowhere to run.
Anywhere else, you can walk away from an unruly drunk. But not on a plane. “It’s a metal tube and blasting off at hundreds of miles per hour,” says Jeffrey Lord, a veteran frequent flier based in Burlington, Vt. (Lord believes alcohol isn’t the only problem on a plane. “How about spending hours strapped in with these stressed-out companions with nothing other than caffeinated beverages being served?” he asks. Good point.)

3. Drinks on a plane aren’t just intoxicating — they’re toxic.
“Higher altitudes do amplify the affect of alcohol, which, as you can imagine, can cause problems for passengers that imbibe too much,” says Ashley Halsey, a spokeswoman for American Behavioral, a healthcare organization that specializes in drug and alcohol abuse and treatment for employers. “Because alcohol impairs judgment, the likelihood of violent or other anti-social behavior is increased. When people fly, they also get dehydrated, and alcoholics tend to drink alcohol instead of water, which tends to increase their adverse reaction.”
4. It’s annoying.
Just listen to Terry Ward’s account of her last flight from Orlando to Newark. “I sat next to a group of guys who were on their way to Montreal for a boys’ weekend,” she remembers. “They started drinking right after we took off and didn’t stop. Hard liquor the whole flight.
I thought the flight attendants would stop serving them but they didn’t, because one of the guys was tipping them $20 each round.” Instead of cutting off the passengers, she made all of their drinks doubles, as they requested. “It was completely obnoxious,” she adds.
5. It’s embarrassing, too.
Who doesn’t have a story to tell about having one too many on a plane? Here’s Denise Vardakas’. She and her mother were flying from San Diego to Grand Cayman, and on their final leg they enjoyed “endless Jack and Diet Cokes.” She adds, “We were having a great time chatting with the crew members, and a few of our fellow passengers.” On their way back a week later, the same crewmembers greeted them as the “Jack and Diet” ladies. Oh, my.
6. You could relapse.
If you’re off the booze, a plane trip is a relapse waiting to happen, say experts. “I’m still constantly surprised by how many of my patients will relapse or overdrink on planes,” says Carrie Wilkens, the co-founder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation & Change, a private group practice in New York that specializes in treating addiction and compulsive behaviors.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’ve heard it as a therapist so regularly that now, when any one of my clients is planning a trip, I tell them, ‘OK, we have to make up a plan for how you’re going to manage this flight.’” Her patients inevitably agree that they drink more in the air, and take precautions to avoid it.
7. How are you getting home?

Even if you survive your flight without incident, there remains the issue of getting back home. If you’re planning to drive, you might keep the case of Dana Papst in mind. A few years ago, after disembarking from a US Airways flight on which he was served alcohol, he crashed his car, killing himself and five others. The FAA later cleared the airline of any wrongdoing.
I don’t consider myself a modern-day prohibitionist, but I think these practical reasons for keeping the skies alcohol-free make sense.
Why not wait until you’re home to crack open a bottle? It could make your next flight a better one — if not save your life.
As on the ground, if you must drink in-flight, please drink responsibly and know when you are starting to get tipsy. Don't leave it up to the Flight Crew to put a stop to your enjoyment. Be sure to drink plenty of water, more than you normally would while at a regular bar on the ground.