19,000 cabin crew members of Unite the Union were surveyed; 4,000 responded, with one in five saying they had suffered physical abuse. Ally Murphy, a former cabin crew manager with Virgin, said: "People just see us as barmaids in the sky. They would touch your breasts, or they'd touch your bum or your legs. I've had hands going up my skirt before." I get her point, badly expressed though it is: barmaids in pubs are entitled not to be groped as well.
How come 387 incidents constitute such a big problem? The answer is that the real figure is not 387: for every incident that results in an arrest, there will be loads that don't get that far. Calling in the police will seriously delay flights, with a knock-on effect for connections, so I expect that they are called out only in the worst cases.
It's not only the cabin crew that are affected: other passengers can find raucous, perhaps aggressive, passengers unpleasant and sometimes intimidating: a couple of badly-behaved drunks can ruin a flight for hundreds of people, as well as directing sexual and violent assaults at the crew, who are just trying to do a job which nowadays is not as well-paid as it used to be. I'm not suggesting good wages justify assaults: just that assaults, aggression, noise and arguments from drunks are more likely to make the employees conclude: "I'm not paid enough to put up with all this!"
Why do these idiots get this way, when drinking in the UK in pubs and bars is for the most part a peaceful matter? These is my speculations:
- Some drink too much because they're nervous of flying. Others have taken sedatives to relax themselves, then add alcohol. Neither is a good way to deal with the situation.
- As people are going on holiday, inhibitions are down and the holiday begins in the airport bar.
- Drinkers don't take account of the effect of alcohol on the system at unusual times of the day. For example, drinks taken in the morning can have a stronger effect.
- Similarly, drinkers don't take account of the effects of altitude which can also increase the effect of alcohol.
- Being on holiday, some are consuming more alcohol than they are used to and go beyond their personal tolerance level.
- Again, being on holiday - as opposed to being in the real world of getting up for work, etc - does in some people engender a feeling that the normal rules of behaviour don't apply.
- Similarly, but even worse, some people are just bad-mannered, abusive slobs anyway - they don't need much excuse to show their true colours.
It seems clear to me that air crews need more support; no matter what training they have, dealing with irrational drunks is not an easy task, especially when, unlike in pubs, throwing them out of the door is not an option.
Some suggestions include making the consumption of your own alcohol on the plane a criminal offence and limiting the amount supplied to individuals on planes. There are voluntary codes but they're clearly not working. This is one area where serious restrictions on alcohol wouldn't bother me in the slightest: no one wants drunks disrupting flights thousands of feet in the air.
Although I've not flown for some time now, I did quite often many years ago. I never once had a drink on a flight, and if I were on a plane now, I wouldn't particularly want one. It hardly seems an ordeal to wait until you've arrived before getting stuck in.