Surely passengers who are too drunk to open the emergency doors on a plane are a serious safety risk, writes Jim Duffy, whose daughter works in a cabin crew role.
I recently travelled by air from Gatwick to Alicante. It was a morning flight on a budget airline.
Alicante airport is the primary arrivals airport for those travelling to Benidorm, so the flight was full to the brim or “choca” in cabin crew parlance.
I counted four stag dos with grooms dressed as fairies and ballerinas and three hen dos with brides and their entourages all kitted out in pink and brightly coloured T-shirts. And, of course, the obligatory 40th birthday group.
When this was all knitted together with alcohol, the feeling of euphoria at 32,000 feet, the excitement of Benidorm and the cocaine that had clearly been consumed earlier that day, it made for carnage and chaos.
My question is, as we board flights on these budget airline, who gets this lot out in an emergency?
On the week when 41 people lost their lives after a Russian plane made an emergency landing and burst into flames after taking off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, it made me think about what I would do if ever faced with such an emergency.
Even more poignant for me, my daughter works in a cabin crew role, so how does she feel when she sees drunk passengers who show no respect for order as they board an aluminium tube capable of travelling at 500mph?
As I watched large groups of clearly inebriated men and women queue up in good sprits and full of spirit, I wondered why the airline was letting them board.
I was under the clear impression that one could not get on an aeroplane drunk. But, I guess profits come first so declining entry to at least 20 passengers and the ramifications of that was just not worth the bother. I took my seat in the centre of the plane, near the emergency exits, ostensibly four tiny door hatches that, once opened, would allow people onto each wing in the event of an evacuation.
As I sat there, I watched the stags and hens all board mixed in with a large chunk of what we now term the older generation or, when I was young, old people.
It can be a stressful time boarding a budget airline as there is only so much overhead locker space. Ensuring that one’s cabin bag makes it into one can be exhausting, especially for an older person. It’s every man for himself as one boards the plane and fights to get baggage stowed and seated. Phew ...
On the left side of the plane at these exits, the port side in pilot parlance, there were three stag doers. They were likely lads with broad cockney accents.
The dress code for them was Burberry caps, blue chinos and CAT boots. They had blingy jewellery and could not talk to each other for shouting at each other. One the other side, the starboard side, were seated an elderly couple and one of the hendoers. I would put the elderly couple at about 70 years of age. The cabin crew proceeded to do the emergency-procedure demonstration. And this is where it gets interesting and makes me think about the psychology of aircraft emergency evacuations.
The three lads were chatting all through the briefing, while eyeing up the hen-doer. The older couple tried to tune in, but were struggling because of the noise and their need to re-arrange their bits and bobs.
At the end of the briefing, a cabin crew member pointed out the exits to them and asked them to acquaint themselves with the safety card as they were sitting in emergency exit rows. The older couple nodded obligingly, just happy that they had extra leg room, while the three stag doers shouted “yeah, when’s the drink coming round mate?”
None of them even picked up the safety card to familiarise themselves with it. And it is at this point that you are entitled to ask yourself, “how the hell you are going to get out if an emergency ever does happen?”
After all, the stag-do boys would be so tipsy that they would only be capable of making a half-hearted attempt as they tried to work out what was going on, albeit they were able bodied.
And the old couple could never in a million years pull the required lever, lift the door then throw it out onto the wing. It just would not go to plan and no cabin crew would be there to assist as they were seated at the front and back of the aircraft with the big doors to deal with.
So, who gets me out safely? Who gets the others around me out safely? And at what point does one call a halt to the proceedings?
If we are all being honest we sit like sheep on a plane, even when we see bad behaviour. The worst of it is the budget airlines and their staff are so numbed and normalised to dealing with these people that they are almost blind to it.
Yet you, like me, probably want to have the right to a decent chance of getting out quickly and safely should the need arise.
The thirst for profit, timely departure and arrival times and the minimum of fuss mean that our safety is being jeopardised every time we fly on budget airlines.
Perhaps it is time for the Civil Aviation Authority to put in place tighter controls over who gets to sit at emergency exits and how much booze they have had. Rest assured if I ever sit there, I take my responsibilities seriously, knowing that if I am called to open that door, I will hopefully do my bit.
But the chances of me flying with you are slim. So until then, if flying budget airlines, maybe it’s time you gave yourself a fighting chance. One only needs to look to Moscow to see how important that is.