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5 Feb, 2013 20:06

Booze and lose: MP pressure for Russia to ban in-flight alcohol sales

Drinking on passenger aircraft may soon become a crime in Russia as the government considers a crackdown on alcohol consumption during flights. The problem has become more acute after a spate of in-flight brawls.

Over the past few weeks, Russian passengers consuming alcohol in-flight has led to cases of broken noses, head wounds unscheduled landings.On one recent flight to the Egyptian resort city of Hurghada, Russian businessman Sergey Kabalov beat up a flight attendant who asked him not to smoke in a lavatory. The dispute soon escalated into a fight involving other people on board. Neither his daughter nor his wife travelling with him, were able to stop him allegedly sparking the brawl.“I am from GRU (Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate), I am a [State Duma] deputy,” drunken Kabalov was yelling. “I can kill anyone with my two fingers.”He tried to break into the cockpit yelling that “he can land the plane anywhere his wants”. The video and his threats were published online, going viral. Another businessman, 28-year-old Vyacheslav Ismailov from a sleepy Moscow suburb of Podolsk was going to Thailand with his wife. But instead of relaxing on the beach, the couple were sent back to Moscow less than 24 hours later, after Ismailov started a brawl so violent that the plane was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Uzbekistan, Central Asia. The businessman reportedly first tried to break into the cockpit and then started to argue with the crew. He then beat up passengers who tried to calm him down. As a result, two people needed medical help. After the interrogation in Uzbekistan the businessman was handed a $200 fine and deported back to Russia with his wife.Ismailov has since admitted that he was drunk, his blood showing intoxication, but has denies all other accusations.Just a few hours after the incident another brawl involving a Russian man took place when a plane en route from Bangkok was landing in Moscow. The passenger, seen drinking throughout the 9,5 hours flight, is said to have smoked and hurled abuse at crew members as well as passengers. After landing he was handed over to the airport’s police. In these recent cases fines were the only possible punishment for on board escapades. Russian officials are now calling for legislation to ban duty-free liquor and cigarettes being brought on board planes, even in sealed bags.A senior member of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Vitaly Yefimov, said the assembly could soon present a draft of a new law. He said the deputies would like to prepare it before the current session ends in the summer.  However it may take up to six months to prepare the law completely. “Changes are needed to end such uproar on planes. It’s a direct threat to flight security,” Yefimov, the first deputy chairman of the Duma’s transport committee, said.If the initiative is eventually approved and signed into law, passengers would still be allowed to order in-flight alcoholic drinks. Moreover, passengers in business-class get an  unlimited amount of alcohol during the whole flight whenever they want it.

Growing hangover

The CEO of Russia’s biggest air carrier, Aeroflot Vitaly Savelyev says imposing just banning alcohol will not help. Instead he suggests blacklisting misbehaving passengers, would prove the most effective measure. Savelyev says Aeroflot has a list of more than 1,800 people. However, the air company cannot prohibit those passengers from flying because at present there are no legal grounds for it.“Aeroflot has been standing for the legalization of black lists for the past 3 years, but it seems that it only applies to us. We do not feel the support. The Air Code prohibits airlines imposing the black lists, and yet this is the most effective method – close access to the plane for a those guilty," Savelyev posted on his Twitter account. The Air Code, the legislation that regulates air travel in Russia, reads that airlines can "unilaterally terminate a contract to carry a passenger and freight" but cannot refuse to sell a ticket.In practice this means the only thing the airline can do in case of rules violations is to refuse to return the money for the ticket purchased by the passenger, if for example they were denied access on board or forbidden to continue the flight. According to Aeroflot statistics, in 2012 there were 450 incidents when passengers violated rules on board.  But Savelyev insists only banning alcohol on planes will not solve the problem. There have been cases when absolutely sober people provoked in-flight conflicts and fights. He suggests suspending misbehaving passengers for three to five years from flying "I do not see any violation of civil rights in this case," he wrote.Certainly, officials agree, it is impossible to forbid people buying alcohol in duty free shops. At the same time, Vitaly Yefimov did not rule out that duty free in Russia might be banned from selling alcohol. Another suggestion included forcing passengers to leave their purchases in a special room on the plane, or have more people checking bags before boarding. But extra checking will require more people and thus will likely affect ticket prices.