Over the course of my flying career I have encountered more disruptive passengers than I care to remember. When I say disruptive I don’t mean the ones who are annoyed because we don’t have any chicken left; or the ones who blame you personally because we took off late; or the ones who shout at you because their oversized carry-on wouldn’t fit above their seat. I’m talking verbally and physically abusive. Passengers who have got up in my face. Pushed me. Swore at me. Spat at me. Called me all the names under the sun.
People often say that once we’re trained as cabin crew, we become nurses, paramedics and police, all rolled in to one. Lately were also having to become night-club bouncers, as the number of alcohol fuelled, disruptive passenger incidents increases.
Everyone enjoys a drink when going away on holiday, myself included. But when grown men and women are getting so drunk, they think that being aggressive and abusive is perfectly acceptable behaviour on board our aircraft, in our place of work, then a line is crossed.
Why do some passengers think that it’s ok to get so intoxicated that it becomes physically impossible to walk off an aircraft unaided? Or when even the hardest of landing doesn’t wake them from their vodka-induced coma?
In what other industry is this acceptable? In what other job role is it acceptable to be spoken to like a piece of dirt? We don’t have the luxury of having bouncers to throw these idiots out, or the police just a phone call away. We’re locked in a metal tube, 7 miles high, with no escape. No where to walk away from these difficult and often dangerous situations.
What passengers seem to forget is that we’re on-board an aircraft for safety. Forget the drinks service, the meal service, forget the duty-free. We are on-board to save your backside should the proverbial hit the fan.
Flying has become safer than ever, thank god. There are fewer and fewer grisly images of mangled aircraft wreckage on the news these days. Maybe this is why some passengers think it’s ok to treat cabin crew as their own personal bar staff? They believe that the worst simply doesn’t happen anymore.
But it does. On Saturday July 6, 2013 Asiana Flight 214 crashed without warning while on approach to San Francisco International Airport killing three passengers. Then there was British Airways Flight 2276, from Las Vegas McCarran International Airport to London Gatwick which, on September 8, 2015, was evacuated after a catastrophic engine fire during take off. Less than a year later, on August 3, 2016 an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER, one of the world’s safest aircraft, operating Flight 521 crashed while landing at Dubai International Airport. Thanks to the skills of the cabin crew all 282 passengers were evacuated with only minor injuries.
Disruptive and intoxicated passengers pose a serious threat to safety. They can hinder an evacuation, they can obstruct crew when dealing with a medical emergency, they can interfere with our role on board. Their behaviour literally could kill, and my biggest fear is that it will take a serious incident involving the death or serious injury of a passenger or crew member, before the airlines, airports, aviation authorities and government step in and make a change.
Ryanair’s outspoken boss Michael O’Leary recently said “Our challenge is we have passengers, particularly during flight delays, stuck in airport bars drinking six, eight, ten pints. They get on board, particularly in groups and they’re rowdy and they’re a threat to safety. That needs to be regulated. Nobody wants to be on a flight with a couple of drunks on board creating trouble”. For once I couldn’t agree more with Mr O’Leary.
What people must also remember, is that there are other passengers on that aircraft. Families going away on their annual holidays, business men or women off on an important trip, couples off on their first romantic get away, people heading home to visit loved ones. The last thing anyone needs is a group of men or women drinking, swearing and being abusive. How would you feel if you were on board with your children, parents, or grand parents and people were behaving like animals around them? It’s unacceptable.
Some people say it’s a generation thing – ‘kids these days have no respect’. But this isn’t true. I’ve had men and women in their fifties, sixties and seventies behaving appallingly on flights. One crew member told me about a lady, well in her fifties and travelling with a group of older women, who stood and wet herself while in the queue for the toilet. She was so intoxicated she didn’t even realise what she’d done until a crew member noticed and offered to help clean her up before being told to “F*ck off!”.
Here in the UK, officials and the Government dismiss cabin crew claims that this is a growing problem. They say that from the millions of flights each year, the number of disruptive incidents is small. I’d like to personally invite these ‘officials’ to step out from behind their desks and come and take a flight on one of our problem routes and see if they still believe that this isn’t a massive issue.
Between February 2016 and February 2017 – 387 people were arrested for drunken behaviour on a flight or at the airport. My colleagues and I will agree that these numbers are wrong. The real figure would be MUCH higher, but sadly many incidents go unreported. We’ve grown used to this type of behaviour and so occasionally we just brush them off. Who wants to stay behind at 2am after a long and difficult flight to file reports?
But we shouldn’t have to be used to these incidents. Ally Murphy a former Virgin Atlantic crew member told the BBC Panorama programme “Sadly, and this is completely wrong, but you kind of just accept it as part of the job and it shouldn’t be. It’s rage inducing and you shouldn’t have to deal with that”. Ally is right, we shouldn’t have to deal with such appalling behaviour. We shouldn’t have to brush these incidents off as just ‘part of the job’.
There is a genuine fear amongst some crew about going to work. I know many who have been signed off with work related stress or anxiety, unable to fly following disruptive incidents on their flights.
This was never in the job description. No one should have to go in to work anxious, stressed, even afraid. But we do. We put on our uniforms, paint on a brave face and go to the airport, hoping and praying for a trouble-free flight.
But what can change? Well airports and airlines need to start admitting that this is a real problem and step up. They need to do more. A few posters in the bars and duty-free shops is simply not enough. Staff need better training on how to handle drunken passengers and there needs to be stricter laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol in airports.
And what can we do as crew? Well first of all we must stick together. We are a team. We work better as a team. We must offer each other support and make our voices heard. Keep reporting every incident, no matter how minor. But most importantly, keep yourselves safe.
Finally to our passengers. To any one who thinks that drunken, disrespectful, abusive and toxic behaviour is ok on board an aircraft. It isn’t. Have some respect. Respect for yourselves. Respect for the people around you and respect for the cabin crew. We’re just doing our job.
© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air.