Drunk on a Plane: Is It Illegal to Be Intoxicated in a Plane?

Inside view on passenger and cabin crew people on an airline

Everyone has heard the saying, vacation begins once past security.

This often refers to airport security. It’s a sentiment many can relate to. Flying isn’t always a pleasant experience, but the love for travel necessitates it.

So, what happens when there’s a desire to travel but a disdain for flying? Many find solace in grabbing a drink or two at the first bar or restaurant after passing security. After all, vacation has begun, right? Who could it possibly harm?

Drinking at the airport or even on the plane is not a crime, and many share the same mentality that vacation starts once past security. However, it is a crime to engage in unruly behavior onboard a plane, which can result in a 20-year federal prison sentence and a $35,000 fine if the incident is severe enough.

Viral videos of passengers causing havoc and harming airline employees or fellow passengers are often seen. Most of these videos involve individuals who have become intoxicated either on the plane or at the airport before boarding. Remember, being drunk is not a crime, but what happens afterward can be considered criminal.

In recent times, passengers aboard planes have become unruly, with viral videos emerging due to the federal requirement to wear a mask on a plane during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some instances, individuals refuse to follow the airline’s rules and become hostile towards the airline staff. These actions are federal offenses and are punishable with prison time and fines.

Is Intoxication on a Plane Illegal

As previously discussed, a passenger on a plane commits no crime by being drunk on a plane.

It is a crime and violates federal law if you do the following:

  • Intimidating or assaulting a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft
  • Interfering with a flight attendant or crew member’s ability to perform their regular job duties
  • Considerably lessen the ability of the crew member or flight attendant to perform their job duties
  • Attempt or conspired to attempt the above actions against a flight attendant or crew member

Whether you are drunk or not it is a federal crime to interfere with the job of any flight crew member. Federal law applies to conduct aboard an aircraft under a “special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.” This includes all commercial flights that:

  • Are operated by U.S carriers
  • Aircrafts that have departed from the United States
  • Aircraft that are landing in the U.S as their next stop

The aircraft are considered in flight and therefore subjected to federal law the minute the exterior doors are closed after all boarding. The federal law stays in effect until the following:

  • The exiting of the aircraft by passengers after they have arrived, and the crew has opened the doors for disembarking
  • In the case of an emergency landing, until competent authorities have assumed responsibility for the aircraft, the individuals and the property on board.

This means that even if you are sitting there waiting on the tarmac, and we all hate sitting in the tube and just waiting. It is still considered a federal offense or federal law because the doors have been closed, so it is considered in flight even though it’s on the ground.

What Are the Penalties You May Face

Since crimes on an aircraft are considered federal crimes, they are much different than being charged by the local police for drunk and disorderly conduct. That is considered a misdemeanor in Nevada and may get you a fine and some community service.

On the other hand, interfering with crew members on a plane whether or not you are drunk is a federal crime and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

A life prison sentence is possible if a weapon was used to assault or intimidate a flight crew member.

The federal judge can impose a fine of up to $35,000 above the prison term if you:

  • Assault a crew member either physically or sexually
  • If you threaten to assault or sexually assault a crew member
  • Taking any action that poses an imminent threat to the safety of the plane, other passengers, or crew members of the aircraft

During the pandemic, there were many viral videos where passengers were assaulting crew members and flight attendants due to the mask procedures of the airline or federal mask policies. So in 2021, The Federal Aviation Administration instituted a federal Zero Tolerance Policy against crimes against flight staff and other passengers. You will be prosecuted in the federal court system if you commit any crime on a plane.

What Are the Defenses?

Since crimes on a plane are federal crimes, you’ll definitely need to hire a good defense team.

Since the federal government has a zero-tolerance policy regarding crimes on a plane including intoxication resulting in interfering with a crew member or flight attendant’s job duties it is best to have a defense plan when you appear in federal court.

The Federal court in Nevada is located at:

Lloyd D. George Criminal Courthouse in Las Vegas

Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno

Some defenses your lawyers might consider are:

  • Self Defense
  • No Intent
  • Falsely Accused
  • Mistaken Identity

Self Defense

Self-defense is always a valid defense to any assault charge. This is especially true in the context of an airplane flight, where it can be difficult to know what is happening or why someone might feel threatened.

Your lawyer will need to show that you were in imminent danger and had no other viable option than to act in self-defense.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself against another person:

  • Only take action if you genuinely believe that the aggressor poses an immediate threat of harm to you.
  • Ensure that you use the minimum amount of force necessary to eliminate the threat.

No Intent

Many federal offenses require that prosecutors prove you intend to commit a crime. If there is no evidence of intentional misconduct, then your lawyer can argue that you had no intent to violate the law.

This defense should be used carefully because it is an affirmative defense and will require you to provide evidence that proves your lack of intent.

Falsely Accused

If you have been wrongfully accused of a crime, then your lawyer can challenge the accusation by presenting evidence that refutes the claims made by prosecutors. This defense is best used when there are no witnesses or physical evidence that supports the accusation.

Mistaken Identity

This defense can be used if the prosecutors mistake you for someone else or if they have mistakenly accused you of a crime that was actually committed by someone else. Your lawyer will need to provide evidence that proves your innocence and shows that the crime was not committed by you. Evidence such as CCTV footage, eyewitness testimony, or other physical evidence can be used to prove your case.

These days most incidents on airplanes end up going viral due to everyone recording on a plane once an incident starts to happen. So your defense team might have access to the video that could get the charges against you dismissed.

On the other hand, if you were the culprit then these videos might be the thing that gets you convicted in federal court.

Why Do I Need a Defense Attorney

All crimes on an aircraft are federal crimes and with the zero-tolerance policy, you will be tried in federal court if you are charged with a crime on an airplane. The punishments for committing crimes on an airplane can be severe so if you are charged or arrested after an incident on an airplane in the US you’ll need to hire an experienced legal defense team immediately.

The Defenders in Las Vegas will investigate your case and tell you what you can expect as the outcome. If we find evidence that it wasn’t you who committed the crime, we will get the charges dismissed.

We can also get charges reduced if you have no prior criminal offenses.

A good defense team has built relationships with the prosecutors and the federal prosecutors and judges so they can negotiate a plea deal if necessary to get your sentence or fines reduced based on many factors.

Also, our attorneys at The Defenders will make all appearances with you or even go for you if you are not required to appear in Federal Court.

Your Defense Lawyers

If you have been charged with a crime in Nevada including any criminal offense on a plane, welcome to the law firm that can help.

The Defenders is a local Las Vegas firm that has been in the community for over 40 years.

We defend our clients from a variety of charges including DUI, Drug offenses, Misdemeanors, Financial Crimes, Felonies, Murder, Sex offenses, and many other criminal charges.

Time is critical and if you have been charged with a crime or arrest you need to hire an attorney immediately before you get into more trouble.

Your choice of an experienced defense team can make all the difference now and in the future.

If you were arrested in Nevada then you need to hire a local attorney that knows the ins and outs of Nevada law. The Defenders is that firm with a proven track record of getting cases resolved with favorable results. Call us today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to drink alcohol at the airport?

Yes, it is legal to consume alcohol at the airport, provided that you are of legal drinking age.

Can I get drunk at the airport?

While it’s not illegal to get drunk at the airport, it’s essential to remember that your behavior can have consequences, especially if it disrupts the peace or endangers others.

Are there any restrictions on drinking alcohol on a plane?

Yes, airlines typically have their own policies regarding alcohol consumption onboard. Usually, passengers are only allowed to consume alcohol served by the flight attendants.

Can I be denied boarding if I’m visibly intoxicated?

Yes, airlines reserve the right to deny boarding to passengers who appear to be excessively intoxicated or disruptive.

What are some examples of unruly behavior on a plane?

Unruly behavior on a plane can include verbal or physical altercations with crew or passengers, refusing to follow safety instructions, or causing significant disruptions to the flight.

Can airlines ban passengers for unruly behavior?

Yes, airlines can ban passengers for unruly behavior. The length of the ban can vary depending on the severity of the offense and the airline’s policies.

What are the legal implications of assaulting a flight attendant or fellow passenger?

Assaulting a flight attendant or fellow passenger is a federal offense and can result in imprisonment and hefty fines.

Can I be sued by another passenger if I cause a disturbance on a flight?

Yes, if your actions cause harm or distress to another passenger, they may have grounds to sue you for damages.

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