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Onboard Drink Limits: Yea or Nay?

With full flights and ever-decreasing legroom, flying has become a test of patience and stamina, pushing some travelers to the edge of their endurance. Add alcohol to that toxic mix and air rage looms large.

It’s a vicious circle: Travel stress drives flyers to drink more, which lowers their inhibitions, so they’re more likely to act out their frustration and discomfort. It’s no wonder that most incidents of air rage and just plain inflight misbehavior involve excessive booze consumption.

There’s no simple solution to the problem. Flyers are free to tank up at the airport bar even before boarding their flights, so short of administering breathalyzer tests to all departing passengers, the airlines have no control over their customers’ blood-alcohol levels before the plane pushes back from the gate. But once the flight is underway, it is the airline that dispenses the alcoholic beverages, and therein lies an opportunity to manage flyers’ sobriety.

At least one carrier has elected to do just that.

In response to a concerning surge in inflight incidents, SAS is capping at three the number of drinks offered to passengers on its intra-Europe flights. The policy is considered a guideline rather than an absolute rule, so there’s an element of cabin-crew judgment involved in enforcement.

Oddly, the policy doesn’t apply to SAS’s longer-haul flights, which might be expected to generate more overconsumption than shorter flights. But the move underscores the problem’s prevalence, and signals SAS’s willingness to address the issue.

The International Air Transport Association has recognized the increase in air-rage incidents, and warned of their potential to undermine both passenger safety and airline financial performance. But IATA’s proposed solution to the problem is to give pilots and cabin crew more legal authority to confront flyers’ misbehavior. That will do nothing to address the underlying causes of the disruptions.

To me, the keys to tranquil travel are twofold: More comfort, less alcohol. Easier said than done.

Reader Reality Check

Limits to inflight drinks: Yea or nay?

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