How Drunk is Too Drunk on a Plane? An Etiquette Expert Weighs in

By Alex Van Buren |

Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of Emily Post, author, and co-host of The Awesome Etiquette Podcast, has agreed to weigh in on a few travel etiquette questions from a politesse perspective. We’ve covered airplane seat backsreclining, and those pesky armrests; now, how tipsy can you get in the friendly skies?

Most of us have a go-to approach to air travel: Some like to knock out a ton of work on a laptop. Others like to zone out to music or read. And many like to konk out completely—sometimes using drugs or alcohol to do so. Regardless of all the medical warnings about dehydration in-flight, to which alcohol contributes, even doctors have been known to tip back a drink or two while on a plane. And those with travel-related anxiety issues sometimes seek out all the help they can get, whether it’s beta blockers, deep breathing, or a gin and tonic.

So what’s the etiquette here? Post weighs in:

How much is appropriate to drink on a plane?

“You absolutely can [drink]! I know of a number of people who can’t get through flights without being personally wasted. This is a thing for people. When it comes to the etiquette of it, no matter your fear of flying, it’s good to be aware of the people around you. Anytime alcohol is involved it’s really important to know your limits and pay attention to them. In the air, especially, you’re very close to someone…who can’t get away from you. And they have very limited options if you over-drink.

You have limited options if you get hammered on a flight, or get sick. How many times have you heard a friend who’s really drunk say, “I just need to lie down.” You can’t do that on a plane. You’re stuck in a seat; you don’t have the creature comforts of home. If you do happen to vomit, it’s really unpleasant for the people around you; it’s a really tough thing. Know your limits; know what you need. If there are other tactics you can use to calm yourself down, seek them out; alcohol can be a fickle friend.”

If there are kids around you, should you take that into consideration?

“We’re getting into moral ground, which we try to stay away from when it comes to etiquette. Either way—I don’t think—as an etiquette expert I can’t pronounce on what’s right or wrong. The hard thing is that you are in a public space, and children are present—yeah, normally that’s something that makes us want to say, “Yeah, you really want to watch your behavior.” But [on a plane] it’s hard to say yes or no, you should worry about the kids next to you. The general consensus is ‘Yeah, you try not to get hammered in front of kids.’ [But some people have] massive anxiety due to flying.”

Is it OK to intentionally pass out using alcohol or drugs in order to get through the flight?

“I have a friend who does that, and he needs to be escorted on and off the plane because of it. He has a note from his doctor. He needs a wheelchair…when he flies it’s really a problem for him, and he takes prescribed drugs to deal with it. A lot of people do, whether it’s something really simple like a beta blocker or something heavier.

We do use alcohol to calm our nerves sometimes; I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but you are the person who will be in 12A. … It’s always good to consider those around you and how your behavior might affect them…If you’re passed out…I don’t want to shame anyone…[but] if that’s how you have to travel and you set yourself up well for it—if you’re going to be doing that, you need to communicate it well.”

What should you tell people around you, if anything?

“I’m not going to tell anyone that they should or should not knock themselves out for a flight, but if you are going to do that, you need some way of letting people know that you’re going to be in a state that you can’t control very much. Let’s say you take your drugs but you don’t pass out—you could be really loopy and saying really interesting things, or controversial or inappropriate. It’s helpful for the people around you to know that you are taking something that’s going to help you get through the anxiety of this flight.

You want to communicate this when possible or have your traveling companion, if you have one (which I recommend if this how you travel) be able to communicate for you if that’s how you have to travel.”

This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.


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