Sedating babies and popping quaaludes 35,000 feet above sea level.
'Bridesmaids', Universal Pictures
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Despite being the exact opposite of a good drunk environment—bright lights, cramped, and closely monitored by an extensive team of security staff—people love getting really drunk at airports and on planes. Perhaps it's an attempt to make the horrors of sitting on hard seats outside a gift shop bearable or just to soften the existential trauma of soaring through the air in a big metal tube. Whatever the reason, flight-lash is a phenomenon as central to air travel as safety announcements.
But when does too much booze become too much booze? This week, a Panorama investigation by the BBC blew the lid on plane drunkenness, including the dramatic statistic that the number of passengers arrested for drinking offenses at UK airports and on flights has risen by 50 percent in a year. I'm pretty sure the worst thing I've ever done while drunk on a plane was listen to Hot Fuss by The Killers straight-through, three times in a row, but I have witnessed so much worse. The shovels of beak on the 8 AM to Ibiza, the aisle gymnastics on the 1400 to Split, the middle-aged heavy petting on the midnight bird back from New York. The skies are lawless: It's a wilderness up there, cans of Heineken are $5, and we do accept card.
With that in mind, we asked a few people to tell us their best (or worst) drunk flight stories.
I was flying to Austin, Texas, with a friend; we planned to spend a couple of days at SXSW. His ex-wife is Mexican, so we were driving to Juárez afterward to spend a couple of days out there. He'd got some coke through security, and we'd drank a bottle of champagne at the bar in the airport and bought a bottle of whiskey to drink on the plane. So obviously, once we were in the air, we got a bit excited and decided to do some of the cocaine. On the plane, we were sitting next to an off-duty pilot, who was flying home to visit family. That's a detail that will become important later.
We started chatting with these Irish guys who had a mixed bag of pharmaceutical pills. We sort of thought if we offered them a couple of lines, maybe they'd do a deal with us and give us a couple of the pills so we could sleep for the rest of the flight. They were conveniently sitting by the toilet, so we headed up, and after they'd had done some coke, they offered us a couple of pills. Turned out they were synthetic quaaludes. They told us they were pretty strong and suggested that we only take half. Naturally, we did a lot and went back to our seats.
I just recall going to sleep. When I woke up, the plane was landing, and there was an announcement telling everyone there would be a delay while a couple of people were escorted off the plane. We looked at each other and laughed, thinking the Irish guys must have got a bit carried away. Then we notice the off-duty pilot had gone from his seat and that the police were walking toward us. We were escorted off the plane. It wasn't too bad—we had to look very sorry, and I was a bit worried about going to check in for the return flight—but there was no drama. If anything, it worked out very well, as we were able to skip all the luggage lines. We got through security and were met by our friends, who had confetti canons, which didn't help with the intense feelings of despair.
About two years later, I saw a friend who had been in first class on that flight. Apparently, we were up at the front of the plane, we broke a bed in first class by jumping on it, and the stewardess showed us how to smoke cigarettes without being caught. Nice to fill in some of the gaps.
I was on a plane to Spain. I'd fallen asleep because I had a bit to drink. So when I woke up, I felt a little groggy, so I went to the bathroom. When I went to wash my hands and started pressing the button I thought was for soap, I was so sure of myself. I pressed it a couple of times, and I couldn't see soap coming out from anywhere. So I pressed it again, and again, and again. In my half-asleep drunken state, it started to really annoy me, so I kept hammering the button, desperately trying to work out where the soap was. I could hear the "ding dong" noise that sounds when people ask for help going off outside, but I didn't think much of it. Then there was tons of banging on the door. I thought it was just people who needed the toilet, so I tried to ignore it, but eventually, the banging got louder and louder until a member of the cabin crew forced the door open. Outside, there were four attendants panicking, asking if everything was alright, and the entire plane was looking at me. I'd been hammering the emergency button, over and over and over again.
I don't drink very much on airplanes—I'm a lightweight under any circumstances, and I don't really want to go through immigration drunk because I get pulled aside a lot (I have a funny last name). But I made an exception a couple years ago on a long flight and had two little gin and tonic bottles—they were so cute. I got wasted. I now know this is because the oxygen situation on planes makes you drunker faster—at least, that's what I'm blaming it on. This also triggered my first experience of getting super emotional on a flight. I didn't realize that crying on an airplane was a thing.
It all came home while I was watching Sex and the City 2, which is not only one of the worst movies I've ever seen from a technical perspective but also probably the most offensive—other than the Birth of America clips we were shown in history class. There are a lot of burqa jokes and a really classic moment when Samantha throws condoms at a crowd in Abu Dhabi and yells something like "YEAH I FUCK, SO WHAT?!?!" which I think was meant to show she was an empowered Western woman (IT'S 2010, GUYS). I cried real genuine tears at various points throughout the movie, particularly at the end when Carrie finally got her wedding ring from Mr. Big. It was just too much. The guy next to me got up and went to the bathroom at this point, I think to let me have my moment.
Imagine you fart in a room. Instantly, a neon light fires up beside your chair indicating that this one's yours. You fart so horrifically that all those around you are unable to either think straight or relax. The smell lingers, and if anything, grows stronger with time. Now imagine the room is locked, and you're all told it won't be opened for 11 hours. Finally, imagine that room is whizzing along at 35,000 feet above the earth. This is roughly how it feels when your baby cries for an extended period of time on an airplane. Your tiredness and the physical discomfort of the noise vanish into nothingness when compared to the white-hot shame. You can practically reach out and stroke the suspicion among your fellow passengers that the real problem is a lack of some kind of basic parental prowess.
For this reason, I was very much ready to administer a mild sedative to both our kids at the start of our (sadly unavoidable) family trip to South Africa. That doesn't make me a bad person, just a practical one. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, disagreed. She saw this as an affront to the stoicism with which both parents and the wider community should suffer screaming children. Every time I tried, she intervened. There was literally zero counter argument other than, "Och, you really shouldn't need to do that."
So I sat back and stewed, the wails continuing from both babies. After a sympathetic and frankly heroic flight attendant slipped me an extra couple of miniature Johnny Walkers, the solution hit me. It was with great pleasure, and some sloppy maneuvers in the bathroom, that I tricked my kids' granny into drugging both of my kids via their bottle of milk.
I was flying to Greece alone, and I'm a pretty nervous flyer. I sat near a nice enough young couple who had this really young baby, who they thought to put next to me for some reason. I was drinking so much to get over my nerves that I had to run and throw up in the toilets just after take-off. Two hours into the flight, I was smashed, but the baby kept throwing stuff my way so I had to interact with it a lot, which was stressing me out because I really don't know how to behave around children. So I continued to drink in hopes of loosening up and being a good family friend to these strangers.
So I was slurring my words and ordered another drink, poured it into the glass, then went to get something out of my bag—with the table tray still down. The glass flipped over and soaked the baby. Literally soaked it in hard cider. It had barely touched me. The rest of the family, who sat in other seats, came over and were like, "What's happened?" and, "I think you've had enough." The baby wouldn't stop crying so they passed it all over the plane to different family members, and I was just there, unable even to apologize, and crippled with embarrassment. Pretty awful.