Drunkenness and alcohol-fuelled fights on planes are health and safety issues and tougher action is now required, writes Stephen Jardine.
If Brexit has made us the laughing stock of Europe, something else gives us a worldwide reputation to be ashamed about.
For the second time in just two months, police abroad have had to deal with the consequences of violence onboard a flight from Scotland.
In February, a flight from Prestwick to Malaga was diverted after a brawl broke out. Last weekend, police detained two men after a fight on a flight from Prestwick to Tenerife. Witnesses said it left the cabin splattered in blood.
This is just March. What’s it going to be like when the peak holiday season gets underway?
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show the number of serious incidents onboard has doubled in the past five years, reaching 422 last year. Airlines believe the real figure is much higher as only incidents that put aircraft at risk are recorded. The trigger points will be many and varied but the vast majority will involve one common factor – alcohol.
This week it emerged the biggest operator of duty-free shopping in the UK has introduced its own measures to tackle the growing problem of drink-fuelled air rage.
World Duty Free now sells its alcohol in sealed bags which have to be placed in overhead lockers and only opened on arrival at the destination.
It’s a step in the right direction but so much more needs to be done. For instance, why are miniature bottles of alcohol still on sale in any airport? A few years ago on a flight to Canada, a man in the row in front with his family was constantly up and down visiting the toilet. Only when a row escalated to the point where he assaulted his wife did it emerge he had been knocking back whisky miniatures throughout the six-hour journey.
Then there is the issue of drinking before boarding in airport bars. Only now is the Government considering extending high street licensing laws to airports to limit consumption but that should have happened years ago.
Imagine having a bar inside petrol stations where passengers could enjoy a few shots before continuing their journey. We wouldn’t accept that so why on earth is the widespread sale and promotion of alcohol in airports quietly tolerated?
At the end of the day this is a health and safety issue. If airlines really expect us to pay attention to the brace position and safety briefing, they need to do something about the inebriated individuals who risk turning an emergency situation into a full-blown disaster. Sadly this feels like a problem that is only going to be properly addressed when something awful happens.
But, before that, the airline industry has a chance to get its act together. Of course individuals have responsibility. For many of us a drink marks the start of the holiday but when that tips into drunkenness and violence at 30,000 feet, prison is the punishment required.
However the journey to that point has been facilitated by businesses making money along the way. They share responsibility for every drunken incident in the air.
They should reflect on that and act on it before an alcohol ban in the terminal and on the plane becomes the next logical step.