Scary flights? I’ve had a few. Largely because, with travel writing as part of my journalistic brief for almost 30 years, I have been lucky enough to have flown all over the world.
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I’ve had a number of last-minute aborted landings, such as when the plane suddenly rose just as the wheels were about to hit the tarmac, nose pointing to the heavens and with its engine screaming.
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Or the time smoke started swirling out into the cabin from the stewards’ food preparation area at 30,000ft.
Or, indeed, the experience of sitting on a small plane on a snow-covered runway in blizzard conditions and starring out at the iced-up wings and watching in disbelief, just before take-off, as a man on a stepladder attempted to de-ice them with a kitchen sweeping brush while my late husband muttered “Munich air crash” into my ear.
Yes, I’ve had them all.
But of all the heart-stopping moments I’ve had on planes over the years, the worst ever – in terms of how scared I felt – was definitely my experience in July 2015 on a flight to Crete.
The reason for my anxiety? A group of about 60-plus teenagers, most of them high as kites on alcohol, who simply took over the plane, charging up and down the aisle en masse to reach friends who were separated from them in another part of the aircraft, shrieking with laughter, and piling into seats on top of each other.
One guy a couple of rows in front of me had a ghetto- blaster which was on full volume for a major part of the four-and-a-half-hour flight.
Yes, four-and-a-half hours. Not a quick hour’s hop to the UK, but rather an insufferable length of time for ‘normal’ passengers to be subjected to such behaviour. And, yes, high spirits and pack mentality were undoubtedly part and parcel of it all that day, but largely the problem stemmed from too much alcohol.
And from lack of intervention from the cabin crew. Not once was a teenager told to sit down, not once was Mr Ghetto-Blaster instructed to turn off the music and not once did I see any of the teenagers being refused more alcohol.
The bottom line was that if things had suddenly tipped just slightly further, then matters would have been totally out of control on that flight. At one stage the captain asked for the seat-belt signs to be turned on – when there was no turbulence whatsoever.
Good move, I thought, as things calmed momentarily, but then the signs went off again and the chaos simply continued. And no one took control.
It’s a problem which, four years on, hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s worse.
And this week’s announcement by the Irish Aviation Authority that consideration is being given to banning alcohol on flights should be welcomed.
With statistics showing that every three hours, somewhere on a flight in Europe, there is disorderly and threatening behaviour, and that every month an emergency landing is called for as a result of such alcohol-fuelled antics, then it is obvious that this problem can’t just be swept under the carpet any more.
Nobody wants to make the majority suffer because of the few. Nor should the young be blamed for all the bad behaviour.
But safety must be the priority. And if not an outright ban on, say, all flights of less than six hours’ duration, then what about a two-drinks limit?
I know… then there’s the alcohol that has been consumed before boarding the plane. Or, for a celebratory group travelling together, the drinks back in the house before they even pitch up at the airport.
But at least with an on-board limit a halt would be called to proceedings. And everybody -passengers and crew – would know exactly where they stood.
All I know is that I never again in my life want to be on board a four-hour flight with 60 alcohol-fuelled and uncontrollable youngsters. And with nobody in a position to simply say “stop”.
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