How American Airlines Knows If You’re Intoxicated – And What They’ll Do About It

On Friday American Airlines sent out a memo warning staff to expect more intoxicated passengers. To be sure, with business travel still not back in any meaningful way, every airline’s passengers are Spirit Airlines passengers right now – and most flights that don’t cross an ocean are running full. However American ties their warning about drunk customers to “summer approaching.”

With summer approaching, we anticipate a significant amount of leisure traffic, which might include customers travelling while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

The airline isn’t allowed to board passengers who appear to be drunk – and they don’t want to, because that risks having to divert the flight which is costly.

Here’s how they tell staff to know a passenger might be intoxicated or on drugs:

  • Has difficulty with balance or fine motor control.
  • Speaks with inappropriate volume, pace, or poor enunciation.
  • Takes long to respond, is unable to understand or pay attention.
  • Emits a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.
  • Behaves in an erratic, obnoxious manner.
  • Is extremely argumentative with other customers or employees.

Front line agents aren’t supposed to tell a passenger that they appear to be intoxicated, out of concern for discrimination based on a medical condition. An epileptic, a brain injury, or someone with diabetes who isn’t maintaining their blood sugar levels might appear to be intoxicated to a gate agent. If I ever found myself actually inebriated in the airport, I might claim to have Auto Brewery Syndrome, but since I was inebriated I’d never remember to do this.

Employees are supposed to refuse to board the passenger and contact the Ground Security Coordinator or management to make the call on whether the customer can travel on the flight, or if they should be rebooked later in the day or the next day.

I’m doubtful summer is the driver here, since American flagged this same issue at the start of last fall.

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. Flight attendants will need a refresher on how to handle obnoxious and self-entitled “business” travelers. When droves of $30k a year salesmen hit the road again to make money for their corporate bosses, and as the “elite” population on planes increases, so will the incidences of drunken behavior, when said salesmen try to down a few free “first class” beverages while flying a domestic CRJ for a powerpoint presentation.

  2. Pretty difficult to identify intoxicated passengers while huddled in the aft galley with the curtain pulled and describing last night’s sexual tryst with the crew hotel bartender.

  3. sending prayers for the FA’s and gate agents, and those with disabilities such as those recovering from stroke, elderly who may be a bit unstable due to balance issues, and those who are deaf and incapable of understanding how LOUD they are to others.

  4. I’ve travelled over 2 million miles in the last 20 years, and you know what? Airlines employees are people. My brother and my sister in law are retired airline employees. One was a pilot and other was reservation supervisor. Airlines can make all the policy they want, but are they consistently enforcing them? Often Airlines Employees (AE) do not want to get involved, and why should they? They often get into confrontation, not to mention possible physical altercation, legal actions perhaps, and not to mention their employment record. Of law enforcement and or medical staff will be called, you bet that the AE will be staying late for work because of reporting and Airlines debriefing process perhaps. In real world, obnoxious people will always be, drunk or not. I’ve seen plenty that can hold their liquor and still function normal and polite. There are also people who are just troublemakers regardless of alcohol. I’ve seen plenty couples start their fight in the air. We’ve seen enough Karens on the plane. Also last, who enforces AE who are drunk? TSA agents? Other AEs? Policies are a joke.

  5. I’ve had enough of your pejorative references to “Spirit Airlines passengers.” I doubt if an elite entitled flyer like you have much experience aboard Spirit Airlines flights. Perhaps some statistical evidence could enlighten your readers of the veracity of your comments.

  6. Don’t these airlines serve alcohol on board? So they don’t mind them getting drunk AFER they board, but not before. Got it.

  7. Customer service for the airlines 29 years saw just a few. The worst where the ones reeking of cigarette smoke!

  8. ha ha ha, 70% of Japanese tourists meet these criteria but not too many of them now.

    Speaks with inappropriate volume, pace, or poor enunciation.
    Takes long to respond, is unable to understand or pay attention.

  9. “with business travel still not back in any meaningful way, every airline’s passengers are Spirit Airlines passengers right now” What does this even mean? That business passengers never misbehave and anyone traveling for leisure is a bargain basement shopping drunk with no self control? Elitist much Gary?

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