Unlike the mustachioed dude muddling kumquats behind the bar or the attractive cocktail waitress who’s TOTALLY into you, flight attendants are not trained drink servers. Sure, they're pouring sodas and doling out tiny bottles of booze, but a flight attendant's job first and foremost is to ensure your safety.
And part of that safety involves keeping you from drinking too much, or making a jackass out of yourself with the attractive passenger sitting next to you, or getting so belligerent that the pilot has to make an emergency landing. Which is why, whether you like it or not, they're keeping tabs on your beverage consumption. And what do they think about your 36,000ft happy hour? Well, we asked a seasoned flight attendant about passenger drinking and how they're trained to deal with it.
Are there rules as to how much you can serve someone?
We have a traffic light system, kind of like they have in restaurants and bars. Green is happy drinker, yellow is somebody who's starting to lose it, and red, well, you get the idea. Many of us have worked in the bar or restaurant industry and can tell, so it’s really up to our discretion.
How do you cut people off?
I have a purser -- or a head FA -- who’ll come back and say, “hey, we’re not really allowed to serve you anymore.” Or maybe tell them this is the last one. That’s mostly in coach. In first class, you get what you pay for, so we’ll let them get away with more. You cut off coach way before you cut off first class.
What do you think about people who drink on planes?
Personally, I LOVE drinking on planes, and usually find the people who do are much cooler and more laid-back. But obviously, every flight attendant is different. Some don't think anyone should drink and fly, not just the pilots. That said, if someone’s being a fool, we’ll often try to hide for a while. Or only give them half a mini bottle.
What’s the worst thing you’ve had an inebriated passenger do?
Once a guy defecated all over the walls of the lavatory and vomited in the sink, then he lost his phone in the trash and asked me to find it. He did apologize at the end of the flight though and blamed it on the Ambien he washed down with a glass of wine.
And then another time, a guy took a sleeping pill, drank some vodka, groped the flight attendants, stole a handful of minis from the cart, got yelled at by the purser, vomited all over the back galley, and then got duct-taped to his seat until landing. So, yeah, that happens too.
Do you ever give away free drinks? And if so, how can we get them?
We give away free drinks all the time. If you're nice and come to the back rather than ringing your call light. If you're cute. If you don't ask for a receipt. But the number one way is to bring us treats.
Yeah, like candy, cookies, donuts, really anything. Especially chocolate.
Can you tell when people bring their own booze on the plane?
You’re actually NOT ALLOWED to drink your own liquor in coach, but if people do it, we’re not gonna call the cops. That said, we almost ALWAYS spot it.
Do you drink when YOU fly, not for work?
If I'm off the clock and flying somewhere fun, I usually drink. Something about flying says happy hour. And even though it's technically against policy, other FAs will sometimes hook you up with free drinks.