As someone who never flies sober, here’s how to drink on a plane without making a fool of yourself.
It has long been my staunch rule to never, ever fly sober. Not even on a brief hop, or at the crack of dawn. I am one of those people you see at an airport at 5am nursing at least one glass of dodgy cava before boarding. Once upon a time this was because I was a nervous flier (cava is easier to get hold of than valium). Today, it is a habit as ingrained into my frequent flight regime as putting a seat belt on when I get into the car.
Plenty of us non-sober flyers exist – air travel, bizarrely, is the only circumstance under which it is socially acceptable to drink before breakfast. Alcohol is prohibited on public transport, but there would be all-out mutiny if an airline took the same stance. It is a contextual quirk akin to it being fine for a woman to wear a bikini on the beach but not lacy lingerie, even though both show the same amount of skin.
Regardless, so long as you can consume booze for the purpose of flying without behaving like a twit, no-one bats an eyelid. Which is where UK Labour MP Charlotte Nichols went wrong this week on a British Airways flight to Gibraltar, according to UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who, in a desperate bid to divert attention from the Conservative Party’s sleaze scandal, complained over Nichols’ “heavy drinking” (she was so hammered on board, apparently, that she required a wheelchair to get her to baggage reclaim) and that of her two inebriated companions, Scottish National Party MPs David Linden and Drew Hendry, who were also said to be “lairy” and “rude”.
This is not a good look; certainly not as far as middle class voters are concerned. Getting trollied in public is, and has always been, best suited to the lower and upper echelons of society. Indeed, you will find alcohol closely woven into the culture of any activity that caters specifically for the rich (Pimms at the tennis, sundowners on safari, Champagne in business class) or for those in the trenches (sailors, football yobs, budget airline passengers). Labour politicians are supposed to hover somewhere in the middle, drinking tea and posing with the occasional pint.
In light of all this, my editor asked me yesterday for my 10 cents on how to drink alcohol on a plane without making a fool of oneself. I don’t consider myself an authority on many topics, but, given I have flown drunk hundreds of times over my 15-year career as an adult – sometimes in business, mostly in economy – without once causing a scene, I should know. And it’s not particularly complicated.
The very best way, of course, is to avoid booze altogether. This is what any smug, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed celebrity will tell you is their ‘top flying tip’. Which is rubbish, of course. Their top tip, really, is that they always fly business class, where the wine is of superior quality and they can always sleep it off afterwards in a nice horizontal bed.
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But no-one should have to remain sober for the duration of a long-haul flight, strapped bolt upright in the back of a plane, shoe-horned in amid a legion of snorers, farters and babies, I did, only once in my adult life – entirely by accident, many moons ago, from London to New York with an obscure Arab airline that observed the Islamic ban on alcohol – and I very highly do not recommend it.
So, you’ve committed to some in-flight anaesthesia. How many refills is it reasonable to ask for? That depends on whether you are a nice drunk or not. Does alcohol lead you to become giggly? Extra-amenable? Sleepy? Excellent, your flight will be better for it, and very probably for those around you.
Does it, on the other hand, unleash an alter-ego that gets irritable? Hostile? Lecherous? Or, like the aforementioned MPs, downright lairy? Then keep a lid on it for everyone’s sake and get written-off, if you must, in the privacy of your hotel room later.
The other factor worth considering obviously (though many don’t) is how good you are at masking your symptoms when squiffy. Being carted off the plane in a wheelchair is a reliable indicator that you have failed. I spoke to a flight attendant friend who told me about the “traffic light code” used to assess whether or not to keep serving a passenger more alcohol. Mellow and affable behaviour will put you into the green category; getting more loud and animated puts you in yellow (at which point staff will clock you and possibly offer you some water); and red means it’s cut-off time. So regardless of how much you quaff, at least pretend to stay within green territory.
Finally, spare a thought for the cabin crew – who must deal endlessly with yellow and red offenders – and don’t order a Bloody Mary in the morning when flying economy. According to former British Airways flight attendant Andy Sparrow, it’s the most irritating drink to prepare.
“It was the order we dreaded,” he once told London’s Telegraph. “It takes an age to sort out all the trimmings, and it’s infectious. As soon as one person asks for one, half the cabin fancy their own.” Further proof that it takes very little persuasion for everyone to jump aboard the 37,000ft booze cruise, no matter the time of day.
Red wine, on the basis that grim red is never as bad as grim white, and better for snoozing purposes. But be warned air travel temporarily changes your body chemistry and alters your taste buds. Wine can taste more acidic, but numerous studies have shown that Bloody Mary’s taste much better at cruising altitude, when the sweetness is enhanced (although flight attendants will not thank you for ordering it).
The vegetarian option, on the basis that dodgy vegetables are never as perilous as dodgy meat. Choose the pasta, eat the stale bread, the square-shaped sponge pudding and the cheese biscuits, as all that will help to line the stomach.
Wet the whistle pre-boarding (calms the nerves and sets the tone), then get in your lion’s share around mealtime before you nod off for the rest of your flight.
The Telegraph, London