As far back as I can remember, I always dreamt of flying. To begin with, I wanted to fly unaided in the style of Peter Pan, but as reality dawned, I turned my attention towards powered flight and a life-long love of travel took hold.
Flying for me has always been a joy, no matter how choppy the flight. Occasionally, I used to fly to Newcastle on a tiny 16-seat Embraer 110, which on a windy day was considerably more fun than the latest rollercoaster rides at Alton Towers!
Sadly, the same was not true for all of my fellow passengers; one poor chap who regularly flew the same route was so well-known to the captain he would always give him a sick bag before take-off – and on every flight with me, he used it.
Last week, on a much larger A320 to Berlin, I sat next to a woman who, as we began to descend, closed her eyes, intensely gripped the hand rests and, to the consternation of her fellow passengers, began to chant.
After we landed, I asked her if she was like this on every flight. She said she was and, to my amazement, then told me she took the same return flight twice a week. She was petrified.
Fear of flying is more common than you’d think, with around 25% of people reporting some level of nervousness and one in 14 officially suffering from aerophobia (which oddly also means fear of fresh air – a different ailment which, in my experience, mostly affects teenagers).
I’ve always assumed consumption of alcohol at airports was simply self-medication by nervous flyers. Heathrow alone handles more than 200,000 passengers every day; so according to the maths, that’s 50,000 people in need of a stiff one.
But what began as a drop of Dutch courage seems to have evolved into a worrying new culture of excessive drinking before and during flights.
Figures from the CAA showed in 2017 there were more than 400 incidents of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour on planes, more than double the number in 2014.
Inevitably, action had to be taken, and new rules announced this week now require all duty-free alcohol to be placed in sealed bags to stop passengers from opening bottles until after their aircraft has landed.
It’s a good start but I, and many others, question whether it goes far enough. Pressure is growing for high street licensing laws to be extended to airports to stop alcohol being served 24 hours a day.
I know some colleagues in the industry will disagree with me. They will say (rightly) the vast majority of travellers are sensible and shouldn’t be punished – but being drunk and disruptive on a plane should be as socially unacceptable as being drunk at the wheel of a car.
I’m not afraid of flying, but I am afraid one day a drunk passenger might bring down a plane. We should act now, before it’s too late.
Derek Jones is chief executive of Der Touristik UK