Reader Question: Why Did A Gate Agent Ask If I Was Drinking?

Filed Under: Advice

Reader David asked an interesting question in the Ask Lucky forum:

Quick question. I boarded a Royal Maroc flight from Doha to Casablanca and at the gate the lady asked me if I had been consuming alcohol. I had been but said no and continued on to board the plane with no problems.

What was the purpose of the question? And what would have happened if I said yes?!

There are a couple of reasons I find the question worth addressing in a post. The whole topic of drinking before and during flights is an interesting one, given the ways different airlines handle it.

Why did the gate agent ask about drinking?

The short answer is that the gate agent may have been concerned that you were intoxicated. While you can drink before a flight (assuming it’s in a country where alcohol is legal), you can be denied boarding if you appear intoxicated.

Of course that’s still something that’s left open to interpretation. After all, there’s no breathalyzer at the gate you have to “pass” to get on a plane.

So my guess here is that the gate agent may have smelled alcohol on your breath. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it’s possible to smell like alcohol even after just one drink.

Chances are that the gate agent was looking to see how you responded to that question. If you responded nicely and didn’t escalate the situation, chances are they’re not going to have an issue one way or another. Meanwhile if you respond aggressively, that’s when there could be a problem.

So simply put, the gate agent may have been concerned that you were intoxicated, so then wanted to see how you’d respond when confronted about that. Since you responded nicely, everything was okay.

What would have happened if you said yes? Probably nothing. If you responded in a coherent and friendly way “yes, I had two drinks in the lounge and feel totally fine,” they probably wouldn’t have had an issue either.

At least that’s my general experience, and matches everything I’ve heard. Airlines don’t really care if you board after having a few drinks, they just care if you pose any threat to the flight. If you happen to be someone who gets aggressive when you drink, that’s when the problem arises.

I’ve boarded many flights after having a few drinks

I’m not a big drinker. When I’m home I almost never drink (maybe I’ll have a glass of wine or two if I go out to dinner on a Friday or Saturday). But when I fly I do like to maximize the experience. As a result, I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking.

So for example, if you’re flying Air France La Premiere out of Paris and have a meal in the lounge, you will have 3-4 glasses of wine, plus some liquor.

And with the lovely confident French service in there, it’s almost not a choice. The Maître D’ takes your meal order, and then suggests the correct pairing with each course. Who am I to question their expertise?

The reality is that if I have 3-4 glasses of wine over the course of an hour, I’m going to be buzzed at a minimum.

But I’m also the type of person who gets happier and calmer when I drink, and not more aggressive.

So even though I’m sure I’ve been in a similar situation many times before, I’ve actually never been questioned… which I guess is sort of surprising.

Some airlines have quirky policies with alcohol

It’s interesting how different airlines approach alcohol.

Asiana, for example, has a policy where flight attendants are supposed to lecture you about the effects of alcohol after they serve you a couple of drinks. They remind you that the effects of alcohol are greater at altitude, and ask if you’re okay continuing to drink. Understandably this can come across in a rather condescending way.

Then you have airlines like Kuwait Airways, which are dry, but actually let you bring your own alcohol. Most airlines only let you drink alcohol served by a flight attendant, while Kuwait Airways has exactly the opposite policy. They’ll only let you drink alcohol you bring yourself and serve yourself (assuming you’re departing from a country where you can legally obtain alcohol).

I tried this during a Shannon to New York flight, simply because I was curious how it would work.

Bottom line

There’s no doubt alcohol causes a lot of problems on commercial flights, including diversions, fights, and more.

However, when it comes down to it the problem is those who get more aggressive with alcohol, rather than those who mellow out when they drink.

The point is, even if you have had a little bit too much to drink, chances are that you won’t actually have problems getting on a flight unless you’re confrontational, or unless you’ve had so much to drink that you can’t walk on a plane, fall asleep on the floor, etc.

So in David’s case, I wouldn’t take it too personally. Even if you had just one or two drinks, it’s possible the gate agent smelled some alcohol, but when she realized you responded calmly, wasn’t worried.

Anyone have a similar experience when it comes to drinking & flying?

  1. Airline reps know the answers won’t be honest. So, why ask?

    To cover the airline rep in case this passenger becomes a problem later.

    “I did my job. I asked and he answered ‘no’.”

  2. “It is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. Alcohol is available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system. Don’t carry alcohol around with you (except to take it on the day of collection from the warehouse to your home).”
    Local laws and customs – Qatar travel advice – GOV.UK

  3. Anyone asks me that when boarding a plane and I will be more than rude. And I am always sober. What’s next…did you eat beans? Are you wearing underwear? Did you wash your hands before boarding?

    So tired of the nanny state and quite frankly if I did have a glass of wine in the lounge it’s none of their business.

  4. For my business class flight on Hong Kong Airlines from LAX to BKK, I plan on drinking copious amounts of alcohol in the lounges. I guess that I’ll bring a couple of 3 ounce containers of mouthwash with me.

  5. If the agent did smell “alcohol”, there can be another reason for that. Certain medical conditions including but not limited to (inadequately controlled) diabetes, can lead to “acetone breath”.

  6. @DenB – Lucky states why – to see how you react to the question. A lot of people will become irrationally angry/uncontrollable when asked this simple question. You do not want that type of person on your flight.

  7. I don’t have that problem since I only fly US based airlines and either on their lounges or on their planes there is absolutely nothing worth drinking. Thus, I stick with sparkling water. 🙂

  8. @Peter Yes, Lucky gave this opinion. I’m offering mine, in addition. That, among other things, is what the “Comments” section is for. I’m not sure why I’m responding to your post, TBH. Perhaps you felt the same after posting yours.


  9. @DenB no need for the defensiveness. Simply expanding on your opinion.

    I sense a little extra emotion from your response… Have you been drinking? 😉

  10. It can be easy to get irritated by random questioning from the gate agent. It almost seems like you did something wrong. When I was in line for boarding at CDG for a U.S. bound flight, an agent just out of nowhere asked me a series of questions of why I was in Paris, what I did, and where I stayed. I get it was for security and on a normal day, I would’ve been eager to tell her all the exciting things I did during trip. I certainly felt a bit annoyed that I was one of a few who actually got questioned.

  11. The world’s relationship with alcohol is nonsensical and puritinacial.

    You can drink in “private” at a bar or restaurant, but not in “public” 5 feet away on the sidewalk.

    Bar tenders’ job is to serve customers alcohol, but it is a felony to serve an intoxicated person alcohol.

    It’s legal to be drunk in a restaurant, but it becomes a crime (public intoxication) the moment you step outside.

    Overall, there must be some severe internal moral tensions ppl are working out because this makes little sense.

  12. I wish Lucky hadn’t tip toe’d around the obvious white elephant, the person was in Qatar, a country known for human rights abuses and religious extremism. Giant difference between this and drinking some wine in France. Personally I would have taken it personally, but I would have bit my lip so I could get out of that hellhole as soon as possible.

  13. They ask for two reasons. Will you be able to assist yourself in an emergency and to determine if you could be a problem in a metal tube going 500 miles per hour at 30,000 feet. You would be surprised how many stupid things drunk people do on airplanes.

  14. @Stuart lol nanny state… sir, calm down. I, too, would love to watch them throw your ass to the curb.

  15. I’m a professional drunk; thus I’ve never been asked to stop drinking on a flight or lounges. The only time I had trouble is when I got pulled over in Austin TX. I told the officer “I don’t drink” but he still give me the dui test. Passed it. But it’s not worth drinking and driving. I just stick to flying first class and drinking now.

  16. I used to be a heavy drinker and never had any problems. Three long island iced tea before boarding and three small bottles of rum on the plane. I am not a person that causes problems while drinking. Now I am 11 months sober and going to keep it that way.

  17. @Callum I think it is highly relevant. Alcohol is illegal for citizens, foreigners can only buy it with a residential permit AND permission from their employer (as if they were kids). The only other option is a hotel bar. Also forbidden is pornography, homosexuality, and lets not forget the woman who was imprisoned for 3 months and fined after reporting getting raped by the police. I think you can see where I am going with this.

    Needless to say I think its highly plausible that there was an ulterior motive to asking this question. Perhaps she did think he was drunk, who knows, but I don’t think it should be completely ignored that this guy was flying out of a country full of archaic laws

  18. Maybe the flight was oversold and they were looking for an excuse to IDB someone without compensation.

  19. @ Nick – well it’s not. They serve alcohol in the airport and on the plane – what the law may be on the street in Qatar is irrelevant.

  20. I had this happen to me in the EK lounge in SIN. I took a long F flight of IAD-DXB-MEL-SIN-CMB.

    Suffice to say by the last segment to Colombo I was very tired (and jetlagged). I waddled to the front of the lounge VERY tired to ask if the flight to Colombo was on time. When the agent saw me so tired he got a very serious look on his face and said “have you been drinking sir?” I actually started chuckling, and explained why I may look inebriated. It did not escalate from there. But it is airline ground personnel’s responsibility to identify intoxicated passengers and stop them from boarding for the safety of everyone.

  21. Not yet thankfully but I too want to be clear headed. Note: intra-Asia business class on Asiana serve alcohol in “thimbles”; I had a little glass of pre departure champagne and my 1 vodka and soda was beyond weak. OTOH Thai the opposite

  22. I wasn’t aware of this policy on Asiana. How strict are they? I have an OZ F segment coming up. Korean Air doesn’t seem to have this same policy.

    Also Japanese Airlines let you get totally hammered in premium cabins as long as you’re not bothering anyone.

  23. In Mexico while checking in our bags we were denied our boarding passes because the agent said my husband was drunk. I heard him telling his coworker in Spanish that he was drunk, I know Spanish but my husband doesn’t. He insisted he get some coffee and something to eat, than accused my 18 year stepson of also being drunk which was not true.

  24. I find that the flight attendants try to ply me with alcohol in first and I have to restrain them.
    If I am to sample more than 2 wines and an after dinner cognac I need really small quantities not the usual serving. Not easy to get this across sometimes.

  25. I think Asiana is doing the smart thing to educate passengers on alcohol during flights. not only does it keep passengers in line out of courtesy and etiquette for other passengers, but also passengers simply do not know the many negative effects of alcohol on flights, especially during long-haul.

    i once had a once-in-a-lifetime flight on Austrian in J but it was wrecked when a couple behind me was cackling and giggling throughout the entire flight while half the cabin was (trying to) sleep until a flight attendant outright denied them any more alcohol and said that they have “had (consumed) enough” and the couple got a hissy fit while i winked at the FA and gave her a thumbs up.

  26. @Abe, apparently Japanese airlines will let you get hammered if you’re in the cockpit, too. 😛

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