Many airlines in the United States (U.S.) banned alcohol sales/ serving in-flight during the COVID-19 pandemic. But unruly behavior fueled by alcohol has long been a problem for airlines and their staff even before the pandemic. And in recent years this problem even grew bigger.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported that the number of investigations the FAA took on regarding unruly passengers has steadily risen since the pandemic began.
Figures rose from 146 in 2019 and 183 in 2020 to 1,099 in 2021. Meanwhile reports of unruly passengers hit 5,981 in 2021. Almost three-quarters, 73% of these reports, were related to mask-related incidents. The FAA has also said that alcohol played a role in these incidents. This was the reason why the FAA urged airports to stop providing alcohol-to-go for travelers.
Airlines have now lifted this ban and have started offering alcohol to passengers again. One of the airlines that were last to lift the ban was American Airlines. The airline lifted the ban on in-flight alcohol and light snacks for flights more than 250 miles on April 18, 2022, when the federal mask mandate was lifted.
As soon as the ban on alcohol inside planes was lifted, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants called for a maximum of two alcoholic beverages per passenger limit to be introduced by the airline.
The union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, says the proposal to limit alcohol in-flight is aimed at curbing the rising unruly and violent passenger incidents. Several flight attendants have expressed their support for introducing such a limit on alcohol served in-flight.
Love it! Too many problems with alcohol,” said one American Airlines flight attendant, as per Condé Nast Traveler.An American Airlines flight attendant
Previously airlines and flight attendants specifically have been charged with lawsuits for over-serving passengers. Several lawsuits have alleged alcohol played a role in sexual harassment on and off the plane, driving under the influence of alcohol incidents, and even domestic violence after the plane had landed.
As per federal alcohol law, passengers who are intoxicated must not be allowed onboard a flight and it is illegal to consume alcohol on board except for what is served by the airline. However, it can prove difficult to ensure that passengers stick to these laws. While in the air flight attendants can stop serving alcohol to a person who has gotten intoxicated. However, managing such situations can be tricky. Even in flight attendant training, it is taught to never tell a passenger they are intoxicated but only that they appear to be so.
Sometimes passengers get on board after already having consumed alcohol at home or at airport bars. Then flight attendants have to tackle the situation and not serve more alcohol to them. Many flight attendants echo the feeling that cabin crew members have been dealing with alcohol-related unruly passengers before the pandemic, and that they’ll still encounter them post-pandemic.
If the limit on alcohol called for by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants is implemented it is still not clear if it will apply to American Airlines’ highest paying premium business and first-class passengers. When the alcohol ban in economy cabins during COVID-19 was implemented American Airlines still offered alcohol on request to passengers in premium cabins.