Kirby: Follow a few rules when flying drunk

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: February 11, 2014 12:12PM
Updated: February 11, 2014 03:39PM
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Robert Kirby, Tribune columnist

First, my bona fides. I have traveled by commercial airline while intoxicated. Twice. The first time was entirely my fault. I was young, fresh out of basic training and not an accomplished drinker.

The second time was not my fault or even my idea. I was still young and a poor drinker but the police at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport woke me up and made me get on the plane anyway.

To my knowledge, the only inconvenience I caused occurred in the latter case, when a flight attendant was forced to thumb open one of my eyelids to tell me we were in Salt Lake City.

There. Now you know. It was important to mention that because while I no longer drink, I’m about to tackle the controversial issue of alcohol on airplanes.

Last week, a flight to Salt Lake City from Baltimore was diverted to Minneapolis/St. Paul (not in Canada but close) because a drunk woman reportedly grabbed at other passengers and sexually propositioned them.

When the woman became confrontational with members of the flight crew, a couple of them clapped her in irons and held her down. She became even more hostile then, screaming that she was going to kill them.

The plane landed safely. The cops came on board and took the woman away. You can see some of it in this video.

The video does not contain the part where (I strongly suspect) the passengers — fed up and enormously inconvenienced by an idiot — voted on whether to overpower the attendants and throw the woman from the aircraft somewhere over Indiana.

This is not the first time a drunken passenger has caused problems on a flight. In fact, it appears to be happening far more often.

Perhaps most notable was the 1995 incident in which a United Airlines passenger (Gerard Finneran, Connecticut) was arrested for pooping on the beverage cart after flight attendants refused to serve him more wine. Finneran, who insisted he wasn’t aiming for the cart, was convicted, sentenced to two years probation, and fined $5,000. Meanwhile, fellow passengers were psychologically scarred for life.

We come now to the alcohol part of the question. I think airlines should continue serving alcohol on board flights. Lots of people have anxiety about flying. A glass of wine or a cocktail smoothes out the bumps for them.

I’d rather sit next to a woman with acrophobia AND a couple of drinks in her than one who is completely sober and fully amped. I know because I’ve done both.

I have no problem with people having a few drinks on a plane. I do have a problem with people who are already drunk getting on planes. Completely sober people with cellphones are rude enough.

While flights attendants and gate agents are trained to watch for drunks, occasionally they slip through. A metal tube traveling 600 mph is no place to be with a guy who finds the most ridiculous things hilarious or enraging.

Maybe it’s time to consider pre-flight Breathalyzer tests. If someone who’s obviously had a few drinks tries to board an aircraft, I say we test them. Anyone who blows a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 or higher gets bumped or has to travel in the baggage hold.

A higher BAC than is permitted to operate a motor vehicle is fair. After all, they aren’t going to be flying the plane. If they try that, then we can throw them out a window.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.