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Senator wants two-drink limit on planes

By Thurston Hatcher

(CNN) -- You're settling into your long flight to Seattle and sipping the last of that Chardonnay, when you summon the flight attendant for another glass.

"Sorry," she says, "but I'm afraid you've had enough. Two's the limit."

Quotas in the cabin? It could happen.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has asked airlines to limit the number of drinks they serve to passengers in an effort to curtail the number of "air rage" incidents.

Airlines have quickly rejected the idea, and flight attendants -- while saying they're alarmed by air rage -- also say they aren't eager to become the drink police.

Nevertheless, in her letters to seven major airlines, the California Democrat urges their managements to set the limits voluntarily or face possible congressional action.

"In view of the 5,000 'air rage' incidents each year," Feinstein wrote, "I believe it is time for the airline industry to set standards voluntarily, or else Congress may well step in." Her letter was sent to the CEOs of Delta, Continental, Northwest, US Airways, United, Southwest and American.

She said she's writing legislation that would limit passengers on domestic flights to two drinks.

"I hope that introducing this legislation will not be necessary and you will be willing to voluntarily set limits on how many drinks a passenger can consume," said Feinstein, who could not be reached for comment. "Absent that, I am prepared to proceed with the legislation."

Airlines: 'Poor public policy'

Alcohol has been cited as a factor in some disruptions -- incidents that flight attendants and others say are on the increase.

The Federal Aviation Administration listed 306 reported incidents involving unruly passengers in 1999 and 314 incidents in 2000, up from 146 in 1995. There have been 100 reported incidents so far this year.

In one case earlier this year, a United Airlines flight from San Francisco, California, to Shanghai, China, was diverted to Alaska when twin sisters were accused of interfering with the crew.

One was accused of choking a flight attendant and the other was accused of hitting two flight attendants and the plane's captain. Witnesses said the twins had been drinking.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines, maintains that Feinstein's proposal is the wrong way to address the problem.

"This particular proposal represents poor public policy that would unfairly and unilaterally penalize the hundreds of millions of law-abiding, cooperative passengers simply because of the disruptive and unruly and oftentimes illegal conduct of a few," ATA spokesman Michael Wascom said.

He said that airlines already limit alcohol consumption by not serving drinks to intoxicated or underage passengers, and may forbid some passengers from even boarding planes.

"There are all types of safeguards already in place," he said.

Flight attendants oppose limits

A spokeswoman with the Association of Flight Attendants -- which is urging airlines and the government to do more to combat air rage -- said the organization agrees with Feinstein's objective but not her approach.

It wants airlines to establish what it terms more responsible alcohol policies, including not serving alcoholic drinks before takeoff, serving only one drink at a time and never using free drinks as compensation for delays or cancellations.

"The problems we see with a two-drink limit is that if a limit is imposed, then airlines need to make sure flight attendants have the tools to enforce that limit," spokeswoman Dawn Deeks said.

She noted that with more than a dozen attendants on some larger flights, the staff would have a hard time monitoring how many drinks passengers were served. Fliers also might bring their own drinks on board or have a drink served to a traveling companion. The limit also might prompt some to drink more heavily beforehand.

"It could potentially cause a lot more tension and a lot more problems on the aircraft," Deeks said.

An advocate for passengers also questioned the wisdom of the approach.

"I'm not saying it's not a valid area to be concerned about, but we need to not isolate one particular component of a larger problem and think that's going to really help," said David Stempler, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Travelers Association.

• United States Senator Dianne Feinstein - Official Website
• Association of Flight Attendants

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