How American Airlines Handles Drunk Passengers

With a shift in passengers from business to leisure, and an increasingly younger demographic, we’ve seen a number of incidents at gates and on planes in ways that have surprised me. Fewer passengers and the challenges of the pandemic I would have thought would see greater camaraderie and a sense we’re all in this together.

Instead bringing people together in a stressful time inside a metal tube has meant plenty of passengers behaving badly. American Airlines just sent out a note to its employees letting them know what to look for in passengers who may be inebriated (or are high), and what to do when they encounter passengers who shouldn’t be boarding their planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits any carrier from boarding a customer on an aircraft if they appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

Help ensure we meet FAA regulations while keeping our crew members and other customers safe by following these guidelines when dealing with intoxicated customers:

Boarding: Do not allow a customer to enter the jetbridge with an open container containing an obvious alcoholic beverage such as:

  • An open beer can
  • A cocktail in a cup/glass
  • To-go alcohol from airport vendors

If a customer is in possession of an open alcoholic beverage but doesn’t appear intoxicated, advise them they cannot board or enter the jetbridge until they have disposed of their drink.

Signs of intoxication: Here are some obvious indicators that someone may be intoxicated

  • Difficulty with balance or fine motor control
  • Speaks with inappropriate volume, pace, or poor enunciation
  • Takes longer to respond and/or is unable to understand or pay attention
  • Emits a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage
  • Behaves in an erratic, obnoxious manner
  • Becomes extremely argumentative with other customers or team members

Steps to take: It’s important to keep situations like this from escalating. Before refusing to board a customer that exhibits any of the above behaviors:

  • Contact a Ground Security Coordinator (GSC) or member of management
  • If a GSC is not available, you may contact the SCSM at […]
  • Do not accuse a customer of being drunk or intoxicated, which could anger them

On a short Dallas – Austin flight I once sat next to a woman who had brought a glass of wine onboard from the Admirals Club in a coffee cup. We were in first class, so she could have had more if she wanted. We even got predeparture beverages. But she wanted it during climb out, which led to a conflict with a crewmember… and an inflight disturbance report. Fortunately it didn’t wind up sending us to the nearest airport. Think of these guidelines from American as the ‘anti-diversion’ procedures.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It seems with Delta flights and Sky Clubs alcohol( SFO no drinks and very little food) is very hard to find!!SO they will not have these problems…….

  2. As everyone knows when a person drinks alcohol you never see any good come from it and usually mostly inappropriate to downright disgusting if not violent behavior is the norm. Having read countless articles on this subject maybe it’s time for the airlines to stop offering alcohol on airline flights which will give not only the airlines but all of us a break from such obnoxious people.

  3. This is old news. This has always been FAA regulation and we are trained in original training how to deal with drunk or high passengers. There was no new memo. You seriously need a new source as you’re continuing to report old news.

  4. The vast majority consume alcohol in a way that doesn’t disturb anyone. The actions of the very few should not dictate policy.

    However I do think it’s difficult to expect that gate agents are going to play sobriety police. It’s far easier just to board the person and get them out of there. So, I don’t think this memo is going to change anything.

  5. Check your sources. I am an American Airlines employee and we have not received anything recently about this.

  6. Retired F/A………alcohol is a cash cow for the airlines……..they will never give it up……imho….

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