Andrew Vine: Benidorm binge with a 6am start at airport bar

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THE stag party announced itself loudly as being bound for Benidorm, where a week of boozing, chasing women and sleeping off hangovers on the beach beckoned.

Even though it was not yet 9am, the boozing had already begun, given the whiff of drink that floated from the seat behind mine, and it was fuelling loud exchanges up and down the aircraft aisle accompanied by a lot of swearing, prompting a sharp rebuke from one of the cabin crew.

That did the trick, at least until take-off. Shortly afterwards, a bottle appeared from some hand-luggage and started being passed around, sparking an angry, expletive-laden shout that somebody was taking more than their fair share.

So there we were, a packed flight from Manchester to Spain still on its ascent, two-and-a-half hours to go, and apprehensive glances being exchanged between passengers wanting nothing more than to reach their holiday destination as smoothly as possible.

The shouting brought an even sharper rebuke, and a curt instruction to put the bottle away, followed by an uncompromising announcement from the captain that disruptive behaviour would not be tolerated, and it could result in life bans from the airline.

For good measure, when drinks were served, only one per passenger would be permitted.

This, thankfully, penetrated the fog of drink, because one of the stag party got up and went from seat to seat hissing at his friends to behave themselves.

They did, to the extent that the bottle was passed more surreptitiously and the swearing was kept to hoarse whispers, and we got to Spain without any real trouble developing.

But just for a moment, the slightly worried expressions on other passengers’ faces had told of their thoughts. What would happen in this confined space, thousands of feet in the air, if a drunken brawl had broken out?

That’s a question which crosses too many minds on board flights every summer. The holiday season has, in what appears to be an increasing number of instances, also become annual air-rage time.

The troubled relationship with alcohol that too many Britons take on holiday with them has already resulted in several incidents over the past few weeks. As summer continues, there will be more.

Flights have been diverted to make unscheduled landings, cabin crew have been assaulted, police have been called to remove the unruly or violent. Along the way, passengers have been scared and had their holidays disrupted, airline staff have been put under needless strain and carriers have seen both their finances and schedules disrupted.

And all because drinking starts for many at the airport at a time when they would normally be having an early-morning cup of tea or coffee.

It is a sight to make anyone other than a street drinker shudder – airport bars full at 6am or 7am of people downing pints or even spirits, a duty-free bag containing yet more drink alongside their tables, often to be dipped into before the flight departs, as well as on board when the cabin crew happen to be looking the other way.

The two-hour wait between checking in and boarding can turn into a long binge, the real start of a holiday, which for many – especially the young – has drinking at its heart.

Britain should be ashamed that one resort, Magaluf, in Majorca, last week introduced a crackdown on binge drinking and displays of indecency that is aimed specifically at citizens of this country.

It is the Britons who cause the problems, fill the emergency units and have to be cleared up after. That dogged determination to get as drunk as possible begins in the departure lounges, and the irony is that despite the problems it can cause in the air, the stringent security that passengers are subjected to after checking in is virtually absent when it comes to boarding.

It is forbidden to take a small bottle of water through security, on the frankly preposterous grounds that it might represent a threat to the safety of an aircraft. Yet it is perfectly possible to buy and swig a litre of vodka before boarding and then to take even more onto the plane, potentially tipping somebody over the edge into a drunken rampage.

There needs to be a rethink of security so that it is not just confined to the period immediately after check-in, with the aim of weeding out passengers so obviously drunk that they may prove disruptive.

Those who would stagger glassy-eyed up to the gate need to know that they can be banned from boarding. The threat of missing their flight – and potentially the entire holiday – would be a powerful incentive to keep their drinking under control.

It would be a step towards cracking down on the menace of air rage, so freeing passengers and airline staff alike from the anxiety and inconvenience it causes.