I did not pay to hear drunks on the plane!

Drunks on the plane annoyed this passenger

On her recent American Airlines flight, Patricia Simon was forced to endure the antics of a crowd of drunks on the plane. Now she wants a refund.

I know what American Airlines will say if I bring Simon’s case to it.

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I don’t care. I still think she deserves something for what happened during her flight from Dallas to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Maybe you agree.

Rowdy drunks on the plane

“Basically, a flight attendant served guys from a football team double bottles of Jack Daniels on the flight to Cabo,” she says.

The players were probably underage, and their behavior quickly turned raucous.

“They drank all the bottles of Jack Daniels that they had in the cart and then moved on to vodka and Bailey’s. And they were sitting directly behind us. They had mini-bottles lined up on their tray tables,” she reports.

Should airlines serve in-flight alcohol?

I’ll get to the rest of her story in a minute. But first, let me tell you why I’m telling you her story. It’s not to get her compensation — I know what American will say — it’s the issue of alcohol on planes and the wrongness of it all. No one wants to suffer the foolish behavior of drunks on planes.

But back to Simon’s unfortunate tale. Here’s what happened after the drinks started flowing:

As the flight went on, they became louder and drunker. They were yelling that they wanted to do body shots.

And kept yelling, “F***!”

Towards the end of the flight, one of the guys pulled out a harmonica and was trying to play, which was so annoying.

So, we were held captive in a closed airplane with five drunk passengers because the flight attendant over-served the passengers. And, we had to hear this loud, foul-mouthed language for the duration of the plane ride.

We were also afraid that a fight was going to break out because they kept getting up and yelling, “Let’s do body shots,” and “F*** this,” and “F*** that!”

Simon wants a full refund.

American’s response to Simon’s complaint

Here’s American’s response:

We appreciate your writing to tell us about the problems you encountered when you traveled with us on March 12. Please accept my apology and also my thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond.

First, we do not want to infringe upon the rights of anyone, and we try to ensure you are not subjected to uncomfortable situations by other customers. For that reason, our flight attendants are instructed not to serve alcoholic beverages to any customer who appears to be intoxicated.

In light of your experience, we have forwarded your comments to our Flight Service managers for internal review with the flight attendants on your trip, and I am confident we will handle future occurrences more effectively.

Still, while I know that you have requested compensation for this incident, we don’t typically extend compensation in these matters. However, our position does not lessen our concern for your disappointment. We have renewed our focus on customer service and our managers at reservation centers, airports and flight service bases are taking steps to ensure that employees are responsible and accountable for the kind of service they provide our customers.

Mrs. Simon, we hope that we have the privilege of welcoming you aboard again soon.

Simon doesn’t like that answer.

I did not pay to hear drunks on the plane!

“That is not an acceptable response,” she says. “I paid good money for my wife and I to have a pleasurable flight. American’s flight attendants over-served passengers, and due to their actions, they were belligerent, loud and swearing. I did not pay to hear drunks on the plane.”

American’s reply is absolutely correct and yet, paradoxically, incorrect. On the one hand, it transported her and her wife to Cabo safely, in accordance with its contract of carriage. On the other hand, one of its flight attendants served all-you-can-drink hard liquor to the football team sitting next to her.

That’s not the American way

I think the airline owes her something for the trouble. Maybe not a refund, but a sincere apology, a voucher, maybe some frequent flier miles — anything, really, that would say “I’m sorry.” I recommended that Simon use our American Airlines company contacts and request reconsideration of her complaint.

Maybe it’s time to quit serving alcohol — before someone gets hurt.

Should airlines ban alcohol on planes?

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51 thoughts on “I did not pay to hear drunks on the plane!

  1. I’m very sympathetic to Ms. Simon, and I do think that AA owes her something, likely some extra AA miles. (And perhaps some discipline for the flight attendants who served too much alcohol.) Certainly not a refund. The passengers were annoying, but according to her complaint, nothing more than annoying and loud. The question of whether or not we should ban liquor on planes is a good question. Many seriouis incidents of in-flight misbehavior (some with serious consequences) have been caused by excess alcohol consumption on planes. But to me banning alcohol doesn’t seem the right solution. Rather, shouldn’t airlines set some reasonable rules and actually follow them? They then whey they don’t, there should be consequences for the airline and the flight crew. They are already not supposed to give alcohol to passengers who seem drunk. And they shouldn’t be giving alcohol at all to anyone underage.

    1. What is underage? Drinking age in Mexico is 18. So.. Are the rules that they must be legal drinking age from the departure city? The arrival city? Once the plane crosses the border?

      Outside an apology, which should probably go to everyone on the plane, and a refresher course on alcohol service to the flight crew, I don’t see anything they should get. And I doubt they’ll even get the apology and promise of retraining because they asked for a full refund.

      1. The airlines themselves set their own alcohol policies. I suspect the cut-off is 21 because these are US-flagged carriers, and that would be consistent with US laws regarding alcohol. I don’t know that for a fact, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the country to which one is flying.

        1. My understanding with cruise ships is that they work based on departure port. So, you depart from Cozumel, drinking age on the ship is 18. You depart from Orlando, it’s 21. Didn’t know if airlines did the same or not.

      2. I recall when it was airspace — one of the states, I think Kansas, did not allow the serving of mixed drinks, or something like that, so while the plane was crossing that state, alcohol service stopped. This was back in the 1970’s.

        1. That is my understanding as well . . . as to the law. But carriers may have the right to set more stringent policies, though if they do so, they should make clear that the minimum age set is not something set by law but by the carrier’s own policy (at least to the extent permitted by law).

    2. I don’t think they were underage. I think that’s a red herring. Honestly, I knew right when I read that at the beginning that the OP was going to ask for a full refund. (He doesn’t even ask for an unreasonable refund of this flight, he wants a refund of the round trip!) I sincerely doubt a flight attendant is going to serve underage passengers. The OP is just saying that because he thought it would help him get a refund.

    3. get off this compensation bandwagon.
      Maybe people should speak up at the time, rather than complain later.
      A quiet word, or note to flight attendant might work ??????

  2. While I voted YES, I don’t think it will ever happen. I do think its time that airlines and their employees should be held to the same standard that bars and bartenders that over serve patrons.

    Maybe a ban would be a great negotiating tactic. I have also always wondered… If alcohol is controlled at a State level, does that mean that airlines have to have liquor licenses for every state they fly over?

    1. If alcohol is controlled at a State level, does that mean that airlines have to have liquor licenses for every state they fly over

      The Airline Deregulation Act has this covered — air carriers are generally exempt from state laws that would otherwise effect their ‘service.’ And the Courts have interpreted this preemption very broadly.


      In this section, “State” means a State, the District of Columbia, and a territory or possession of the United States.


      (1) Except as provided in this subsection, a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of at least 2 States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.


    2. Holding flight personnel to the same standard really isn’t fair. A bartender can physically throw someone out of a bar if they are disorderly. A flight attendant is cooped up in a very small space with people who have already demonstrated unacceptable behavior. Sure, they can threaten arrest when the plane lands, but … Too Drunk. Don’t Care.

      In the situation I describe above, I could imagine that the FAs were, toward the end of the flight, afraid to say “no” to the sozzled herd of young wildebeest.

      1. “In the situation I describe above, I could imagine that the FAs were, toward the end of the flight, afraid to say “no” to the sozzled herd of young wildebeest”.
        While that may be true, they are there for the safety of the passengers and they have training concerning serving alcohol. In this case, it seems fairly obvious that the flight attendant(s) should have stopped serving them when they began to become obnoxious, not keep serving them more and more and letting them get really out of control.
        I realize that serving alcohol is a money maker for the airlines (except in business/first class), but it certainly does not bode well for an airline to let its passengers become drunk enough to cause problems.
        Further, if the drunk passengers did not want to obey the flight attendants and settle down, they could be charged with interference with the flight crew in the performance of their duties. When I worked in the FAA, I handled some of these cases and I will tell you, we took these people to federal court and it was costly. Granted, the flight attendants do not like to do that because they have to fill out all sorts of paperwork and may have to appear in court, so that is why many do not want to go through the process. But, if they do, it works!
        And, you can always file a complaint with the FAA. The airlines hate it when the FAA Inspectors begin nosing around and asking questions about their flight operations and personnel training.

  3. “First, we do not want to infringe upon the rights of anyone” Yup. It’s American Airlines Again!!! I took a flight from LAX to HNL… another passenger was nervously and constantly ( I MEAN ENTIRE FLIGHT) loudly shuffling cards. It MAY have been a way of dealing with anxiety, however there are alternative and various other methods. I politely asked the FA (who was blatantly and openly flirting with off duty pilot in the seat behind me) IF she would ask the person to stop or do it more quietly. Their were no earphones, I have to wear earplanes (NOT ear plugs), no inflight movies on this flight. IN fact, they ran out of food. HER ANSWER” “THIS IS A PUBLIC PLACE HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS”. Despite the invalidity of her statements, I did not respond (it was post 2001..) as her anger at being interrupted was incredible. I’ve also been on AA flights where teens 16 y.o. were served alcohol , no questions, no checking ID, just pay and get it. Yup. AA doesn’t want to infringe on the rights.

    1. Constantly shuffling cards sounds irritating, but is hardly outrageous.

      Did you try asking the person to stop (or at least slow down)?

  4. Sad to say, but you pay for a flight, and a flight only. Where does it say the flight will be “pleasurable”? I feel bad for these people. I once was on a flight with a Romanian girls volleyball team. They were loud, sung various songs, and just overall annoying. Made me appreciate arriving at my destination all the more. Never thought to ask for a refund, though…

  5. I voted no because it is very rare this happens. I was on an 11hr flight once where the crew just plied the guy with drink and it was extremely uncomfortable for those around him. I have also experienced a passenger being removed for being drunk. That’s what should happen because invariably they have been drinking before boarding and the bad behavior has already started.

  6. No they shouldn’t ban alcohol on planes, but they should definitely not permit things to get out of hand like that. That’s a very unpleasant experience. A baby crying the whole flight, you can sympathize with. Not this.

  7. “I paid good money for my wife and I to have a pleasurable flight.” Nope. You paid to be transported. What you want it possible. It’s called private aviation, and prices for a small business jet start around $3k per hour. No matter the cost of a ticket, a commercial airplane is *public* transportation, which means being exposed to the public. And I really don’t like the idea of holding airlines – or any business – liable for the actions of its customers. If the FA’s overserved the passengers in question, then AA needs to work on staff training, but the actions of those passengers, drunk or not, are ultimately not the responsibility of American Airlines.

    1. Woah! Wait a minute … if it is a PUBLIC place, then the PUBLIC writes the rules. Meaning … minimum seat size, maximum flight time over which beds must be provided … all that good stuff. But we do not. So, until we do, it is their PRIVATE space and they are responsible for their private space. You kinda cannot have it both ways – public when responsibility is talked about, private when doing whatever they want to passengers is talked about.

      Don’t believe me? Try to invite dozen 16 year olds to a party to your house and provide gallons of liquor for them. Let us know if cops will treat it as PUBLIC place where you have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens there or your private property where you write the rules and you are responsible for repercussions.

      1. Public spaces, ie owned by the city or community often have rules as to time of access, behavior, and such. The public does not write the rules.

        Most states make it a criminal offense to provide alcohol to minors, whether it is in a home or a commercial establishment. Annoying passengers are a part of travel. The only way to control who is on the plane is to have a private jet — ie seats are not for sale to the public.

        1. Well, public writes the rules, really. Again, why don’t you try to get elected and, as a Mayor, organize a nice stripper contest in the front of your town’s public library at 3 PM on weekday when schools let out . See how long you last as a Mayor.

          From the story, they served alcohol to minors as far as US law goes (doesn’t matter that I do NOT agree with it, but it is the law) and they should be punished for it since it is their private property and they are responsible what happens on it.

          Ultimately, I am truly just sick and tired with “we cannot force them to do a, b or c since they are private companies and they do as they see fit” and then “we cannot do anything to force them because it is a public place and they are not responsible for it”.

          Pick one.

          1. I, for one, am not excusing them from serving people who were too young to legally drink alcohol, if that’s what happened. And if they served people that were of age in the country of destination and/or were outside of US jurisdiction at the time, I’m not sure it was illegal.

      2. I know I’m very late wading back into this, but it *is* public transportation just as much as the crosstown bus, and just like the crosstown bus, you don’t make the rules or control the seat size. If you can’t handle the idea that people on the bus might be drunk or smelly or rude or have loud children or use naughty language, fine. Drive your own car. Don’t call the bus company and complain about the passengers. In the same way, an airplane is a public space. Don’t like the people on the plane? Either accept that other people are not accountable to your preferences, or find private transport.

    2. I agree with one caveat: Anyone who is given the task/responsibility/whatever of serving ALCOHOL to people, be it a flight attendant or a bartender should also have some training in when to say NO MORE and have the authority and the backbone to say it. My brother is a bartender. Sometimes people don’t like it when you say “no more,” but it seems those are the people you need to say it to the most!

  8. Paid for a pleasurable trip? On American? Now that I have that out of my system I will say I feel her pain. Many of us have been on flights with loud and obnoxious passengers. And not all of it is alcohol related. Some people simply have no idea of how to behave on an airplane.
    AA should have cut off the alcohol. Or there should be restrictions on how many bottles can be served to one person. However they did get her safely from point A to point B. Some miles or some of that funny money would be appropriate but not a complete refund. As for determining age by looking at people. I have a 17-year-old nephew that is 6’5″ and dresses as if he runs a bank. Looks mid-20s easily. And another niece is barely over 5 feet, just turned 30 and is often mistaken for a high school student.

  9. There is a regrettable tendency for strident calls to ban whatever in the wake of one unfortunate incident. This is emotion speaking, not rational thinking.

    1. Is it really one unfortunate incident though? Two times in the past few years, I’ve been seated near at least one passenger who was visibly inebriated and still drinking.

      In one case (Southwest) it was a man apparently traveling alone, and he was not unruly, just … merry. Still, I was glad the FA cut him off after one drink.

      The other (Delta) was a truly miserable situation – a coast-to-coast flight, and I watched a group of young men headed for a massive party event in my hometown become steadily drunker, louder, cruder and more belligerent. Nobody seemed to even consider cutting them off.

      I agree with BillCCC below: Why do airlines even need to serve alcohol, beyond the profit motive?

    1. Because it’s a product with a high potential for causing disruptive behavior, which is extremely problematic in the closed space of an airplane cabin.

      1. ‘High’ potential? What is that 0.1% of the times someone is served a drink, it is disruptive?

        There are a lot of things that could be described as “problematic” with a high potential for disruption. Let’s start with the various products like “knee defender.” We can then move on to various “service animals” that aren;’t — and then young children.

  10. The portion of the letter that stands out to me is ” I am confident we will handle future occurrences more effectively.” My follow-up question to that would be, “What specific facts and/or actions taken lead you to believe that the same situation would be handled differently by American Airlines in the future?” Or is this simply wishful thinking by the carrier?

  11. Wait, you get money for being near annoying people? I have about 500 claims to submit….

    Btw, the FAs on this flight should be disciplined. If passengers can’t behave – no alcohol.

    1. Only 500? I don’t keep a tally of how many, but I’m 34 and I’m guessing the number is higher. I probably saw over 500 irritating drunk people while I was in college!

        1. I think we all were. And if I not, I’m sorry that you didn’t have more fun in college. As they say on South Park: “There’s a time and a place for everything. Its called college.”

  12. I don’t think he is owed anything. Obviously the drunks shouldnt have been served but if they give these people miles they would have to give them to everyone on the flight. “We paid …to have a pleasurable flight”? Um, no, you didn’t. You paid for a flight.

  13. I wonder what the gross profits for alcohol are for the airlines, versus the liability costs and insurance costs if one of these drunks actually injures another passenger. It seems a risky financial choice by the airlines. If the airline was the server/bartender, they would presumably be liable for any damages due to negligence in serving an already drunk customer (and you know this would be caught on someone’s phone, so there would be video evidence in addition to the many witnesses).

  14. I get that drunks on a plane are annoying. I’ve dealt with them and im sure at one point i’ve been the annoying drunk on the plane.

    That said, Ms. Simon isn’t owed anything. She should provide some constructive feedback on what happened and the FA’s who ran that flight should get some refresher training on serving alcohol in flight (that assumes these guys were truly beyond hammered which we will never know. were they served 5 drinks or 25?)

    Perhaps a better plan would have been to talk to the FA about the annoying fellow passengers, or ask to be reseated? That’s usually a more effective solution than complaining on the internet. This is the flight equivalent of being served an overcooked steak, not saying anything about it, eating it all and then posting a 1* review on yelp. Had you spoken up the restaurant would have gladly worked to make things right, and i’m assuming AA would have done the same thing.

    Perhaps, depending on her status with the airline I could see them throwing her a $50 voucher or some ff miles, but she is owed nothing.

  15. Full refund? For what’s best an inconvenience? Have they heard of earplugs? Did they ask the cabin attendants to intervene?
    Sorry, life’s full of little inconveniences… this is one of them for sure, and maybe an apology is in order, but no more IMHO.

  16. My first thought as I read this was, “How irritating!” My second was, “Wait, seriously? A full refund for irritation?” Now, if the drunks barfed on the LW…maybe. I do think the FA was negligent and/or irresponsible in continuing to serve alcohol to already rowdy young men, but thank that you got where you wanted to go and it’s over. Also, invest in noise-cancelling headphones and a really engrossing book on the next flight … both work wonders! 🙂

  17. This post came to mind as i got off my flight an hour ago. I did not pay to listen to a crying infant or a toddler throwing a non-stop temper tantrum on a 3-hour flight. The infant crying is understandable, but people were getting irate over the temper tantrum which began just as we left the runway. What compensation, besides pain killers for my raging headache, should I request?

  18. I voted no because airlines need the ancillary revenue. But that is really obnoxious that the flight attendant allowed this to happen. I thought people were generally limited to just two alcoholic drinks per flight, maybe things have changed but I’ve never seen this sort of thing happen on an airplane before (I guess if people keep paying for them, they’re not going to be turned down). I don’t see how they can compensate the passenger for what happened but some frequent flier miles to show that they still value his business might not be a bad idea. The flight attendant should get a reprimand at the very least.

  19. a simple limit of 1 drink per person, per sector or per meal service would do it.
    On the other hand, many airlines see it as a revenue source & if they didn’t sell booze airfares would be higher, leading to less passengers, less flights, less economies of scale & so on.
    What’s the real drinking age in Mexico ? 18 or whoever has the $$$ ?

    Booze is a major problem with youth in Australia. Drinking age is 18 everywhere, but many under that age drink. It’s not hard to get hold of it or use a false ID (some false ID’s these days look better than the real ones).
    Personally think drinking age should be raised & price of alcohol increased dramatically, maybe based on % alcohol content. In Australia, we’ve recently had a wine glut. Something like 100 million cartons(that 100,000,000 x 12 x 750ml bottles-think that’s 26 oz bottles) were in storage a few years back. You can still buy bottle of wine here for $2/bottle(US$1.50) which is way too cheap.
    CATCH 22
    If booze goes up too much, kids will just switch to weed.

  20. I was just on a United flight where the guy next to me started with a couple of rounds of straight bourbon. Then the flight attendant kept his wine flowing through dinner and beyond. Luckily, the man could really hold his liquor. I wasn’t worried, but I though the alcohol was flowing too freely.

  21. The FA should be reprimanded, as well as the supervisor. To promulgate and allow this kind of annoying behaviour on a flight is terrible. The passenger should receive something tangible (not a refund) as a token of American’s concern. Every time I read an AA response, my stomach turns at the stilted, convoluted, phony language. I don’t know why they send out such boiler-plate BS, it’s beyond offensive. If the CEO’s children wrote these responses, we’d all be better off.

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