When I started working as a junior reporter, 16 years ago, there were inevitable challenges. Once, I was sent on a wild goose chase to track down an escaped parrot and – thankfully on a separate occasion – ended up trapped for hours in a flat across the road from a doctor’s surgery where an armed siege was going on. All par for the course.
Another friend from journalism college, working on a local title in Wales, had to book time on “the internet computer” if she wanted to look something up – a decrepit machine housed in a separate room along the corridor.
But for another friend, employed by a local news agency in England, the problem didn’t relate to her job so much as her working environment.
Her boss, the only other human being occupying the tiny one-room office, was a chain smoker. And he puffed away at his desk like it was 1982. Although smoking at work was generally frowned upon 16 years ago, it wasn’t illegal, so my friend could do nothing about it.
The idea now, just 16 years later, that this was even vaguely acceptable, is unthinkable. But, these things change very quickly.
When the smoking ban was introduced in 2006, people could not conceive how the universe would continue to spin on its axis if people were unable to pop a lighted stick in their mouth and set fire to it while drinking beer.
Yet it does.
Now, the concept of nipping out for a quick pint and subsequently requiring industrial fumigation of clothes, hair and skin to erase a stale smoky stink is more alien than the idea of non-alcoholic beer being sold in bars was just a few years ago.
And the ban is becoming more and more an accepted part of everyday life. From October this year it will be illegal to smoke in a car which contains anyone under the age of 18.
Meanwhile, excessive drinking in any location has gone the same way. Ten years ago, getting hammered on a regular basis was a right of passage for anyone under the age of 35. Above that, it was perhaps seen as a touch unseemly – but still OK.
Now, people look askance, mentally citing liver disease stats, the irresponsibility – and high prosecution risk – of drink-driving and the dangers of being inebriated in a public place. That’s not to say people no longer drink, but its social acceptability has definitely waned in recent years.
Yet, while “drink responsibly” is the mantra of even the beverage industry, which through gritted teeth now accepts that excessive consumption perhaps isn’t the best thing for society, the rulebook is torn up and thrown out as soon as a person sets foot in an airport.
It is like entering an embassy overseas: an oasis, a no-man’s land, where normal life does not apply.
Currently, airports offer alcohol around the clock, with terminal bars opening well before it is acceptable to sink a pint in the real world. Passengers boarding a plane at any time of the day or night can indulge in a bevvy from the onboard drinks’ trolley, risking inebriation in the skies.
The consequences, for those who get a tad carried away, giddy from the thought of their impending holiday, can be serious. Anyone convicted of being drunk on board a plane faces up to two years in prison, while limits on the fines that could be imposed were removed last year, meaning troublemakers could have to pay out huge sums.
A friend’s partner was the recent victim of the airport bar temptation, finding himself barred from a plane for being a bit too, ahem, worse for wear. He was in good company, though. The same thing has happened to Kate Moss. And David Hasselhoff.
But it’s not ideal, not when you’re a normal person who has to pay for a new flight the next morning and endure the humiliation that you have delayed the holiday of several hundred people.
Like many in his position, Jim was away on a trip with a group of friends. They got a bit carried away in the airport bar and, once on the plane, one rowdy comment after another saw him and his best friend escorted from the aircraft by airport police, delaying the departure of the flight – which still contained most of his mates – by the best part of an hour. Jim is, apparently, a tad embarrassed. His partner is incandescent.
But Jim is not alone – nor is he merely ranked with celebrity divas. This kind of thing is incredibly common. Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority figures show the number of disruptive passengers has nearly tripled in three years, from 39 in 2011 to 114 in 2014.
Just days after the Kate Moss incident last summer, 34-year-old Andrew Tosh from Dundee was jailed for nine months after admitting sexual assault and threatening and abusive behaviour on a Glasgow to Turkey flight.
A year earlier, a flight to Edinburgh from Tunisia had to make an emergency landing in London after a drunk woman attacked cabin crew with a prosthetic leg. Meanwhile, friends Steven Hayes and Edward Collins, then aged just 21 and 19, were fined £800 for being drunk on a flight from Glasgow to Cyprus in 2012.
Some airlines have taken steps to combat the problem. Jet2 has handed out lifetime bans to certain passengers whom it believes are particularly bothersome, while it also operates a number of “dry” routes – where no alcohol is served while passengers are on the plane. Ryanair operated a similar policy on flights from Glasgow Prestwick to Ibiza.
Banning booze from a 100m radius around airports would be the only effective solution to this problem.
There is an argument that doing so would ruin the fun for the majority – who might want to toast a special occasion with a glass of wine, or just unwind with the first pint of the holiday – because of the actions of the few.
But really, you wouldn’t open a bar at a service station, would you? Admittedly, these drinkers are not going to be piloting the plane – at least we would hope not – but the idea of being stuck in a tin box in the sky with someone who is so inebriated they don’t know their own name, doesn’t seem like my idea of a good time.
And if we can’t wait until we get to our destination before toasting the holiday, then perhaps it is the rest of us who have the problem.