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‘Air rage’ incidents are climbing. Flight attendants say drunk travelers are a big part of the problem

Another issue among unruly passengers: Masks disputes.
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 4:35 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 4:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of “air rage” incidents has skyrocketed amid the pandemic and flight attendants say drunk passengers are a major part of the problem.

The Association of Flight Attendants is asking the FAA, airlines and airports to reduce the consumption of alcohol and crack down on unruly passengers.

Many passengers enjoy a relaxing bevvy on board, but Congressman Kai Kahele ― a Hawaiian Airlines pilot ― says drinking too much in the pressurized high altitude can be a toxic situation.

“As an airline pilot, physiologically it’s not smart. It’s not healthy to board an airplane under the influence of alcohol let alone consume a high amount of alcohol,” said Kahele.

“That’s contributing to these acts of aggression and reckless behavior that we are seeing,” he added.

Nationwide, the FAA reported 4,385 incidents of unruly passenger behavior with nearly three out of four related to mask disputes.

The rate has fallen about 50% from earlier this year after the agency took a zero tolerance stance toward passengers acting up.

More than 20 passengers are facing fines for offenses, including consuming their own alcohol.

Last Thursday, two Hawaiian Airlines flights were diverted in one day because of mid-air disturbances. A Big Island man allegedly punched a flight attendant twice unprovoked. The other incident was possibly mask-related.

It’s not known if the passengers were drunk, but the flight attendants union says to-go cocktails at airport bars are a nationwide problem.

“Bartenders aren’t able to monitor how much a passenger is consuming and the passenger is able to drink right up until they board that flight,” said Taylor Garland, Association of Flight Attendants spokeswoman.

“Establishments and bars are advertising and encouraging their customers after they’ve consumed alcohol at that establishment to load up three four shot rum and coke and take it to go,” said Kahele.

A state Transportation Department spokesman says Honolulu’s Airport does not allow grab and go alcohol and neither does Maui’s airport.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines has banned alcohol sales until January when the federal mask mandate is expected to sunset. American Airlines won’t sell alcohol in its main cabin.

Hawaiian Airlines still sells it, but “alcoholic beverages may not be consumed onboard the aircraft unless received from and served by a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant,” said the airline in a statement.

The flight attendants union also wants the Justice Department to more aggressively prosecute air rage incidents.

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