Comment: Time to bar drinking dens in the sky

SITTING in the bum-numbing plastic seat, my palms began to sweat profusely and my heart rate surpassed that of Psycho’s Janet Leigh on having her shower abruptly interrupted.

Despite yobbish incidents, airlines are unlikely to lose licence to sell alcohol Picture: Action Press/REX

A desperate scatter-gun approach of silent prayers to Jesus, Buddha and Allah had evidently fallen on deaf deity ears.

Of course, I’d known all along that gods in their various guises don’t exist but hey, there are no atheists in the Glasgow Airport departure lounge when apprehensively waiting to see who one’s fellow passengers are. Hopes that the flight seats will be occupied with people like the nice middle-aged couple searching the flights screen for any delays are dashed when a lively hen party wearing pink cowboy hats and tutus arrives on the scene.

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The clink-clinking noise that accompanies their stuttering progress suggests that they availed themselves of the duty-free. It is at this point that the notion of reaching my destination by clinging on to the customised wing of James Stewart’s Phoenix suddenly holds much allure.

Like other decent folk, I would simply like to get from A to B without being an unwilling spectator of a mile-high re-enactment of the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. If given the choice of snakes on the plane or a boorish stag party, I’d choose the serpents every time.

Travel broadens the mind, they say. Plainly, “they” have never experienced the horror of being imprisoned inside the fuselage of party central as it jets its way to Alicante. Were it not for the fact that imbibers are forbidden from sticking their heads out of the windows, the plane would eerily resemble a boogie-on limousine. No-frills airlines should employ events organisers rather than cabin crew.

While the mob laughing like drains ignores the flight safety procedures with impunity, effete air stewards give icy glares to inattentive sober passengers who dare to only glance up from their newspapers to see the Marcel Marceau instructions of what to do should the aeroplane suffer catastrophic failure. If an emergency situation arose, I seriously doubt that the near legless could find their nearest exit or inflate a life-vest.

It appals me that airline staff are in cahoots with the drinkers. Last April, I listened incredulously as a boarding gate worker allowed a drunken woman to hold on to a bottle of beer as she passed through. “You‘ll need to put down the bottle before you enter the plane,” she smiled. A few metres short of the aircraft door, the ladette placed her bottle on the air bridge floor – unbelievable!

On another flight, I found myself sat between two sodden female pensioners. Thankfully, the one of my left passed out moments after take-off, her loud snoring helping to muffle the foul language of her friends sitting behind me. When the drinks trolley appeared, the toper on my right asked for a vodka and Coke but balked at the price. Although the passenger was clearly the worse for wear, the stewardess informed her of a special deal on buying doubles, an offer the woman quickly accepted.

I thought that things couldn’t get any worse but I was wrong. The stewardess grinned as the, erm, “ladies” behind me began shaking my slumbering co-passenger in an effort to alert her to the fact that bevvy was available. Despite their sterling efforts, she remained in her alcoholic comatose state. “She’ll dae her nut when she realises she’s missed the drinks trolley,” her friend warned me.

No doubt at the behest of line managers obsessed with company profit margins, cabin crews show no concern when cheerily peddling booze to inebriated passengers. In terms of business ethics, trading post managers selling firewater to the Apaches appear to have suffered more twinges of conscience.

While bar owners risk losing their licence for serving alcohol to drunks or, for that matter, allowing rowdy behaviour on their premises, pubs in the sky seem to possess some sort of legal immunity. Despite almost weekly stories of yobbish incidents on board aircraft, I’ve yet to hear of an airline company losing its right to vend liquor.

Airlines know the problem exists but are prepared to put the drinks revenue stream above the safety and enjoyment of the majority of their customers. After most flights, I’ve taken the time to fill in my carrier’s online survey that is, I’m told, designed “to drive up standards”. I always mention any loutish deportment that spoiled my trip. I’ve never once had the decency of a reply.

Travelling by train is little better. The Glasgow-London train is a Dante’s inferno on rails, as it hurtles to Euston with carriages full of well-oiled folk straight out of a Hogarth painting. When intimidated Virgin staff are confronted with a potentially tricky crisis, they quickly de-escalate the situation by scampering off to the sanctuary of the guard’s van.

It’s high-time the travel industry offered customers the option of “dry” trains and planes (marketing a “dry” boat might be problematic). I for one would be willing to pay an extra tenner to be far from the madding crowd. Those who failed boarding gate breathalyser tests would be invited to complete their journey in the company of plastered bachelor groups, leaving the rest of us to dodge that particular bullet.

In my opinion, it’s bizarre that we impose stringent airport security that forces impassive staff to frisk a five-year-old whose cuddly toy has inadvertently set off a scanner yet we permit people not in full control of their faculties to fill up seats. While carrying a pair of nail scissors in hand luggage is prohibited, bringing aboard a one-litre bottle of Chivas Regal is considered no risk at all. I’m not an expert on improvised offensive weaponry but I’d wager that cracking a bottle over the head of a steward would do just as much damage, if not more, than scissors.

On landing after an awful flight, it doesn’t soothe one’s mood to hear the pilot chirpily say over the PA: “I hope you enjoyed the flight.” No wonder I head for a stiff drink at the arrivals bar.