Police Call for Booze Ban on Flights

Following a series of drunken brawls and hijack attempts by airline passengers, a senior Interior Ministry official on Friday called for a complete ban of alcohol on flights.

Vyacheslav Zakharenkov, head of the ministry's transport security department, said the ban would be consistent with existing laws banning alcohol consumption in public places and should be implemented on domestic and international flights.

"All of the arguments and aggressive behavior of passengers are linked to the use of alcohol," Zakharenkov said at a news conference, Interfax reported.

Drunken passengers are involved in hundreds of onboard incidents each year on Russian airlines, many of which do not result in police intervention.

Zakharenkov said transport police registered 50 cases of aggressive behavior by passengers aboard planes last year.

Transport police are already stopping visibly intoxicated passengers from boarding planes. "If [a passenger] can't string his words together, or on the other extreme is excessively emotional, we don't let him on board," Zakharenkov said.

In October, a drunken passenger on a Turkish Airlines flight to St. Petersburg tried to hijack the plane, claiming he was carrying a bomb. Passengers overpowered him after he handed over a note with his demands.

Aeroflot does not support an alcohol ban aboard its planes, calling instead for tougher punishments for inebriated passengers, airline spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg said Friday.

The airline wants to increase fines for onboard drunkenness and hooliganism and introduce the possibility of jail time for unruly passengers, as in other countries, Dannenberg said.

Drunken passengers who disobey flight staff now pay what Dannenberg called a "ridiculous" fine of 1,000 rubles ($29).

Passengers are not allowed to drink alcohol purchased in duty-free stores on board, a rule frequently disregarded by travelers on Russian airlines.

Flight staff can only warn them of this rule verbally and hand them over to police at the end of the flight if they fail to comply, Dannenberg said.

While most drunken incidents on Russian flights are sparked by passengers, there have been cases of flight attendants overindulging.

In one incident in July 2004, passengers on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to the west Siberian town of Nizhnevartovsk said three male flight attendants got drunk and beat up a passenger who complained about poor service.

Aeroflot passengers on a Moscow-New York flight in late December refused to let the plane leave the airport after becoming concerned that the pilot was drunk when he had trouble making the welcome-aboard announcement. Aeroflot, which replaced the pilot after an hourlong standoff with the passengers, says subsequent tests showed that the pilot was not drunk but might have suffered a stroke shortly before the flight.