Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Zealand pilots, crew tell of unruly midair behavior

Pre-loading airline passengers are boarding planes already drunk and going wild in the sky.

Cabin staff have been groped by drunk passengers, and dealt with vomit in the galley, "mile-high club" antics in the toilets, and a passenger who grabbed a door handle midair shouting "I'm going to kill you all", aviation industry insiders said..

Pilots said earlier check-in times meant people were pre-loading before boarding, as well as drinking during flights.

The Civil Aviation Authority has supplied details of reported cases since 2009 of "unruly" passengers on New Zealand planes in which the offending person was intoxicated.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act, show incidents averaged more than one a month, and all but one had alcohol to solely or partly blame.

In many cases, people were getting drunk while in the skies, while in others intoxicated passengers were allowed on to planes.

Air attendants have told of inductees to the "mile-high club" - having sex in their seats and in cramped lavatories.

"We put up with a lot of tales of people that are drunk," one said.

In December, Air New Zealand issued a warning to an off-duty flight attendant who reportedly got drunk on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland and "straddled" All Black Israel Dagg.

Six other off-duty crew were investigated after the flight, with several put on temporary alcohol bans while travelling as passengers.

In 2012, Perth grandmother Frances Macaskill forced a New Zealand-bound Qantas flight back to Melbourne after she punched a passenger.

She boarded after drinking and yelled profanities at passengers and crew before punching a seat, a court was told. When crew members told her to stop, she punched a passenger in the face, causing a 6cm cut and heavy bleeding.

She was restrained but continued to yell profanities and head-butted the seat in front. The crew had to strap her to the seat to stop her from injuring herself.

The pilot returned the plane to Melbourne. She was fined $4500 and sentenced to four months' jail, suspended for two years.

Also in 2012, Australian man Fiso Fiso boarded a Sydney to Wellington flight drunk and indecently assaulted a fellow passenger by touching her cleavage and brushing her genitals. He was arrested when the plane touched down in Wellington, where he was ordered by the District Court to pay the woman $1500.

Anyone boarding a plane drunk in New Zealand can be fined up to $1000, and those getting drunk on board can be fined up to $600.

The CAA said it appeared none of the incidents reported to The Dominion Post resulted in danger to crews or passengers, and no flights had to be diverted as a result.

It pointed out that, considering the number of flights every year, only a small number resulted in problems.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline had clear policies about passenger intoxication, and crew members had authority to prevent boarding or refuse service to any customer they deemed intoxicated.

The airline had no record of diverting an aircraft in the past five years because of a customer being intoxicated, she said.

A Jetstar spokesman said that, during the past three years, none of its flights were diverted because of intoxicated passengers.

The airline was licensed to sell alcohol on domestic and international flights, and there had been "negligible issues related to irresponsible drinking", he said.

DRUNKER FASTER IN THE AIR

One drink in the air is the equivalent of about three on the ground.

Otago University occupational and aviation medicine unit director Rob Griffiths said cabins were typically pressurised to levels experienced about 2100 metres above sea level. This meant there was less oxygen reaching passengers' brains, causing hypoxia - a condition that mirrored drunkenness.

While blood-alcohol levels were not affected by altitude, the effect of that alcohol on the brain increased dramatically.

He was not aware of the effects of illegal drugs on air passengers, but imagined they would be the same.

- The Dominion Post

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