A swathe of airlines in the US have banned inflight booze service following an increase in violent or abusive passenger behaviour.
United Airlines recently became the latest US carrier to jump on the bandwagon, extending its restrictions on inflight alcohol services.
The airline said it will only allow customers to order beer, wine and hard seltzer on domestic flights over 800 miles, or flying “hub to hub”, scrapping earlier plans to offer the drinks on flights over 200 miles.
United’s decision came after both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines announced they would continue to ban the service of alcohol on their flights due to an increase in abusive passenger behaviour.
Many airlines around the world, including Virgin Australia, Easyjet and most US-based carriers, stopped serving alcoholic beverages in a bid to reduce interaction between flight attendants and passengers to stop the spread of COVID-19.
However, the extended suspensions aim to stem an alarming increase in disruptive passengers.
In a letter to flight attendants, American Airlines managing director Brady Byrnes said the airline recognised that alcohol can contribute to “atypical” behaviour from passengers.
“Many of our customers are flying for the first time in over a year and they may have a little more anxiety than usual and be unfamiliar with some of the changes on board,” he said.
“Flight attendants are on the front lines every day not only ensuring our customers’ safety, but are also calming fears, answering questions, and enforcing policies like federally-required face masks.
“Over the past week, we’ve seen some of these stressors create deeply disturbing situations on board aircraft. Let me be clear: American Airlines will not tolerate assault or mistreatment of our crews.”
Byrnes said the airline owes it to its crew not to potentially “exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers”.
“American suspended alcohol sales in the main cabin in late March 2020, and that service will remain suspended through 13 September,” he said.
“While we appreciate that customers and crewmembers are eager to return to ‘normal’, we will move cautiously and deliberately when restoring pre-COVID practices.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there have been 2,500 reports of unruly behaviour by passengers including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate since the start of 2021.
Last month, a union that represents Southwest Airlines released an open letter to the airline’s CEO Garry Kelly urging Southwest to put better protections in place for flight attendants, after a passenger attacked a cabin crew member causing “serious injuries”, including knocking out two teeth.
In the letter, TWU Local 556 president Lyn Montgomery said the attitudes and behaviours of the flying public had “declined”.
“Unfortunately, this is just one of many occurrences,” she said.
A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines said the airline had paused its previously announced resumption of alcohol service onboard due to “a recent uptick industry-wide of incidents inflight involving disruptive passengers”.
“We realise this decision will be disappointing for some customers, but we feel it to be the right decision now in the interest of safety and comfort of all on board,” the spokesperson said.
Last week, footage of a flight attendant calling out poorly behaving passengers went viral after a passenger posted videos of the crew member’s speech to TikTok.
According to videos posted by Brent Underwood, the American Airlines flight was diverted to Raleigh on its way from Los Angeles to Charlotte, where it remained for at least three hours.
The flight attendant said passengers had made the delay a “living hell” for cabin crew, with one passenger calling a flight attendant a “fat gorilla” and saying “suck my d***” when he was asked to wear a mask.
Featured image source: iStock/FotografiaBasica