We’ve all said it. We’ve all had those trips where it’s just one frustrating situation after another and a good cocktail sounds like the perfect cure. As crew members, we deal with the unexpected all day long: unruly passengers, weather delays, maintenance issues, medical emergencies, and the list goes on. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good drink to unwind at the end of a long and unpredictable day. Plus, happy hour is a great way to share stories and create much-needed camaraderie amongst crew members on a trip. After all, we’re miles away from our loved ones and we often become each other’s family while we’re on the road. In the lonely world of aviation, we crave those connections. For many crew members, those connections often include alcohol.
But at what point is it too much? When does it stop being a fun casual outing and become a problem? We always find ourselves making excuses for it: “How often am I in Rome? I have to drink wine while I’m here.” “Great, I’m in the middle-of-nowhere, USA – there’s nothing to do here except drink!” It’s so easy to let social drinking develop into a habit that could become potentially dangerous. Where do we draw the line?
Why it’s a problem:
We fly with different crew members every time we go to work – which can be a blessing and a curse. If we get drunk and messy around our crew, we can pass it off as a one-time situation by saying something like “Oh my god! I never get like that.” and move on. Being a flight crew member creates the rare opportunity for anonymity at work. Chances are, no one will think twice about our behavior on one trip. Then, the next time we act like that with a new crew, we can say the same thing and repeat the process without anyone ever really catching on. It’s so easy to become an alcoholic in the aviation industry, but everyone seems to be too afraid to talk about it – or worse, too comfortable doing it.
What we can do:
Stop peer pressuring people to drink. We find ourselves saying things to each other like “Oh, you’re no fun!” if someone on our crew says they want to enjoy a quiet layover. While saying something like this may seem insignificant in the moment, it can be extremely toxic. Not only have we tried to pressure someone into doing something that they don’t want to do, but we’ve also made them feel ostracized from the rest of the crew. Instead, we could say, “This place also has great food and live music, too, we can grab dinner or coffee instead.” If they don’t want to join, don’t keep harping on it! Not everyone wants to spend their layovers getting drunk or even being social at all. Sometimes people need that time alone to recharge. We have to get better at respecting each other’s boundaries and being the support system that we all so desperately need while we’re away from our friends and family.
As aviation professionals, safety is our top priority, so we have strict rules and regulations regarding the use of drugs and alcohol, but so often we push our limits. We’re not trying to point fingers, place blame, or make anyone feel bad about their choices. Rather than shaming each other for what we do with our free time, we need to be sensitive to the fact that everyone is on a different journey. We’re not perfect and we all make mistakes from time to time, but we have to be more open and honest about how we live our lives on the road.
Whether or not you’ve felt yourself going too far on a layover in the past or you’re someone who doesn’t ever drink on trips, we have to normalize these discussions and work harder to take care of each other. You can’t have healthy habits without healthy conversations.
The bottom line:
We’re not saying you can’t have fun on layovers – by all means, live it up! Having fun with crew members is sometimes the best part about this job, but layovers don’t have to be all about drinking. Be open to breaking old habits and trying new things.
So, what is the solution? That’s up to you.
Rent a car and go for a drive, go hiking, find a museum or art gallery, do some shopping, and the list of non-alcoholic activities goes on! If you decide that you want to drink on your layovers, that’s cool, too! Here are a few suggestions we’ve discovered over the years that have helped us balance a fun and healthy lifestyle, both while traveling and at home:
Choose a drink limit for yourself and stick to it. Or look at your layovers and decide in advance that you’re only going to drink on a particular layover or two that month. This is obviously easier said than done, but you’ll thank yourself the next day when you’re well rested rather than hungover on the plane.
Don’t drink alone.
This may seem like an obvious one, but one or two glasses of wine alone in your hotel room can sometimes lead to more and more, with no one around to question what you’re doing. If you’re going to drink, make sure you’re doing it in a safe social setting rather than using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Choose a dry week.
This one has worked especially well for us and something that we came up with during COVID19. Rather than doing a dry January like most people, we choose a dry week every month. It’s a good way to question our habits on the regular and keep ourselves in check. It also allows us to focus on alternative ways to socialize with friends that don’t involve drinking.
Find an alternative.
While drinking on a layover can be fun for some, there are so many alternative activities that you can enjoy. Try something new and find out what gets you excited for your layovers. As crew members, we get to see places around the globe that our friends at home only dream about. Create memories that you’ll want to remember, not ones that you can’t remember. Do your research and make the most of it!
Reduce your drinking.
There are plenty of crew members out there that rarely drink and some that don’t drink at all. Reach out to them for words of encouragement and support. We have to normalize that drinking is a personal choice and it’s not for everyone. Be supportive of your fellow crew members, regardless of what their relationship with alcohol is. Everyone is on their own journey and has their own unique relationship with alcohol.
Reach out for support.
Whether you want to get sober or you just want to talk to someone, there are resources out there for crew members. You could contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at your airline or with your union, Flight Attendant Drug and Alcohol Program, you can reach out to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline, or you can even join a Facebook group for sober crew members for support.
DISCLAIMER: We are not mental health professionals and the information provided here is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you believe you or another individual is suffering a mental health crisis or other medical emergency, contact your doctor, seek medical attention immediately in an emergency room, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or call 911.