It’s time for another round of “Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant,” a Yahoo Travel series where “Betty” describes the harrowing, real-life situations she and her comrades in the sky face every day, 35,000 feet away from a foot massage and premium whiskey. Speaking of whiskey, in her newest Confession “Betty” talks about the bane of every flight attendant’s existence: drunk passengers. Some are nice, some are mean, and some can’t stand up straight, but they all make for fun stories flight attendants love telling — even if the encounters aren’t so fun at the time.
One drink on an airplane is like two on the ground because of the altitude. Unfortunately, people who are prone to drinking too much are not fond of warnings, and therefore we flight attendants deal with lots of drunks on the airplane. There are many reasons why passengers overindulge while in flight: They’re afraid to fly, they have anxiety about their trip, or they simply want to sleep. But the end result is often the same: drunk-out-of-their-mind passengers. And just as there are many different types of people, there are different types of airplane drunks.
1. Demanding Drunks
You would think that people on their way to the beautiful Hawaiian islands would be a happy bunch. Not so much. I was once in charge on a flight from Los Angeles to Maui. Midway into the flight, another flight attendant came up to first class to say that passengers in the front part of the economy section were arguing and swearing, making the other passengers uncomfortable.
I didn’t need to know their seat numbers because as soon as I got past the first-class curtain, I heard f-bombs ringing out loud and clear. They were emanating from a drunk, harried-looking blonde in her early 50s. I asked what was going on. She said, “They keep f—ing with me! I can’t handle it!” I was about to ask her who was bothering her when she let out a loud cry and exclaimed, “I’ve been tired for seven years!"
I didn’t know how to respond to that. In training, they don’t tell us what to do for a passenger who’s been tired for seven years. I suspected that a pillow and blanket were not going to cut it.
Instead, I asked her to tell me what was wrong. She then went into a diatribe of loud, long complaints: No one should have to get up that early; she needed a cigarette; they were messing with her; she wanted off this airplane right now! Earlier in the flight, she’d apparently asked one of the other flight attendants how many stops we’d be making en route to Hawaii. The flight attendant jokingly answered "Three,” assuming that everyone knew there isn’t anywhere to land between L.A. and Hawaii. But this drunk lady believed him, and she wanted to deplane!
Getting off the airplane is not an option over the Pacific Ocean. I investigated her other complaints by asking the other passengers what was happening. It turned out that the people who were “messing" with her were her husband and a friend who was traveling with them. The husband defended the drunk passenger, saying that she was tired, mad at him, suffering from nicotine withdrawal on the long flight, and “could” be craving a drug stronger than a cigarette.
She got louder and began demanding to be let off the airplane, insisting that the plane had to land immediately. Her husband was unable to calm her down. In fact, his attempts seemed only to agitate her more.
The situation was escalating as she grew progressively more irritated. I didn’t have a lot of options. I thought it was best to move her away from her husband and friend, since their presence seemed to be a catalyst. I had two unoccupied seats available in first class, but I didn’t want to reward her for her bad behavior or subject the first-class passengers to her ravings.
So I walked through the airplane and found that the last row had only two passengers. I moved them both to first class (they were happy as could be about that!) and then moved her to the back row, where she could lie down. Because she was next to the galley, the other flight attendants could keep a better eye on her. She calmed down after that, and the flight continued uneventfully.
For the rest of the trip, we kept saying to each other, "I’ve been tired for seven years!“
2. Angry Drunks
I was working a flight to Las Vegas. Any flight to or from Vegas is known for having "interesting” passengers. This flight was going along uneventfully, but as you would expect, some of the passengers on their way to a weekend in Vegas were having a few cocktails.
We had done our initial beverage service, and a few passengers had already asked for a second round. One of those passengers was a woman in her 30s sitting at the window. The passenger sitting on the aisle seat of her row walked back to the galley to tell us that this woman was swearing a blue streak at another passenger.
I approached her to assess the situation, and she immediately demanded, “Honey, bring me another rum and Coke!” I asked her if there was a problem. She responded, “No, there ain’t no problem, except that guy over there keeps lookin’ at me! Just bring me another rum and Coke!”
I told her some of the other passengers had reported that there had been some loud swearing. She said, “That’s because that @$$#*! over there keeps staring at me!” I politely asked her to stop using that kind of language on the airplane, and she angrily responded, “You can’t tell me what I can say! Just get me another $#@%# drink!”
I told her I would be happy to get her a soft drink if she liked, but that we wouldn’t be serving her any more alcohol. At this point, she forgot all about the passenger she was mad at and directed the full force of her anger toward me. “What do you mean I can’t have another drink! That is discrimination! I didn’t do nothin’! You’re just being a *$&@! GET ME ANOTHER DRINK NOW!”
I firmly told her to calm down and explained that we stopped serving alcohol to anyone if there was any sort of argument. I continued, stating clearly that if she didn’t calm down, this could turn into a serious situation for her. She challenged me, saying, “Yeah, what are you gonna do? You can’t do nothing up here!” I kept my voice steady and told her that if this escalated, we would have the authorities meet the flight when we landed in Las Vegas.
She went on, loudly and at length, exclaiming that she was going to get me fired, that her rights were being violated, that I was picking on her unnecessarily, and that she had done nothing wrong. The cussing continued without interruption.
I always try to reason with people to calm them down; I don’t like having people arrested. I explained, “If you calm down now, take a nap, read a book, or watch the movie, you can get to Vegas and have as many drinks as you want. But if you keep swearing and yelling, you are going to be dealing with the police when we land. And they probably aren’t going to offer you any drinks, either.”
She kept yelling and swearing, so I got another flight attendant because sometimes a new personality can defuse the situation. Not with this lady! She kept up the ranting and raving, swearing she’d get us fired. We moved the passengers away from her; we informed the captain of the situation; and the captain radioed ahead to the authorities in Vegas. Her Vegas vacation got off to an unlucky start … in handcuffs!
3. Stupid Drunks
These drunks don’t bother anyone and they are entertaining to boot. One drunk passenger once asked, "Will we be landing in the same plane we took off in?”
Another drunk man kept insisting that he wanted to go sleep out on the wing. He kept insisting that it said in the in-flight magazine that passengers could sleep on the wing. The rest of the crew and I got a good chuckle from that one. About a week later, I was looking through that in-flight magazine, and there was indeed an illustration of someone asleep on an airplane wing. Only a drunk would think it was really possible!
On another occasion, a drunk woman called me over to complain, “This soup is cold!” I had to explain that it was yogurt. What made it even stranger was that it was strawberry yogurt. There are very few pink soups out there.
4. Crew Drunks
Flight crews are known to like a drink or two ourselves. A pilot who was known for drinking a lot of beer on his layovers hated that he always had to get up to pee in the middle of the night. Every hotel room is different, so he had trouble finding the bathroom or the light switch in the dark, unfamiliar surroundings. He figured out a solution to his nighttime hotel bathroom dilemma: He would turn the light on in the bathroom and close the door so that when he woke up in the middle of the night, he would just look for the light from under the door.
Did I mention that he also preferred to sleep in the nude? Well, one night he must have forgotten to leave the bathroom light on. True to form, he woke in the middle of the night and looked for the light coming from under the door, opened it, and walked out naked, realizing too late that it was not the bathroom but the hotel hallway.
So here he was — an airline captain naked in the hallway. He hurriedly went down to the copilot’s door and knocked, saying, “Let me in! Let me in!” The copilot looked through the peephole, saw the buck-naked man wanting to come into his room, and said, “I don’t think so!” Instead, he opened the door, keeping the chain attached, and handed him a towel.
5. Falling Down Drunks
On the old and much-beloved L-1011, the galley is located on the lower level. The “galley girl” puts the hot-meal cart in the elevator and sends it up to the top level, where the passengers are seated.
However, on this flight the elevators were out of order. We had a real can-do attitude and wanted to serve the meals in spite of the broken elevators. The only way to do this was to use the emergency escape hatch located under the carpet in the passenger cabin above the galley.
Always safety-minded, we piled cushions and pillows around the hatch (which is really just a hole in the floor) so that no one would accidentally fall in. We assigned one flight attendant to stand at the hatch to make sure that no one fell in, and then handed each meal tray up though the hole in the floor to another flight attendant, who would deliver trays to each of the 300 passengers.
But, wouldn’t you know it, the “hole guard” walked away for just a minute. A drunk guy stumbled up the aisle, went through the pillow-and-cushions barrier, and ended up falling right through that hole in the floor, landing in the galley below. As we picked him up, dusted him off, and checked for injuries, we were certain we were going to be sued. But he was just relieved, saying, “Oh, thank God! I thought I fell out of the airplane!"
Sometimes you gotta love an airplane drunk!