Alcohol and flying don’t mix very well. For most full-service airlines, however, alcohol remains a central part of the in-flight experience. Despite the problems alcohol can cause on board, airlines are unlikely to eliminate the beverage cart anytime soon.

Recently, “Simple Flying” reported on some rugby and soccer players returning from the Olympics who got drunk and misbehaved on a Japan Airlines flight. There was loud singing, vomiting, raided refrigerators in the galley and a lot of negative publicity after the nine-hour flight.

In the United States, a Frontier Airlines passenger was recently handcuffed to his seat after assaulting and berating flight attendants. He was reportedly drunk.

These are just two examples of many. The spate of inflight incidents has prompted some airlines in the United States to stop serving alcohol on domestic flights.

For all the hullabaloo about alcohol and flying, serving (often free) alcohol to passengers is an important part of most airlines’ branding. And that’s not a new thing, either. It goes back eighty years, when flying was glamorous and in-flight service was an important part of that glamour.

Aware of legal obligations and changing societal expectations, airlines now send mixed messages about alcohol. Advertisements for in-flight service, while still present, tend to be aimed at the better class of passengers. For everyone else, there’s a touch of puritanism. “You may have a drink or two, but behave yourself. If you don’t, you’ll be barred from the airline and end up on YouTube.”

What’s the solution? An outright ban on alcohol? Since alcohol is an integral part of most airlines’ in-flight offerings, it’s unlikely that this will ever happen. Perhaps the solution lies in better education about the consequences of bad behavior on board, alcohol-related or otherwise.

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