Written by veteran flight attendant and writer Ji Byung-lim - Last December, a drunk passenger named Lim caused an in-flight disturbance for more than two hours on a Korean Air flight and was finally restrained by crew members. He was arrested on arrival, but was sent home because he was too drunk to be questioned. As the incident immediately sparked criticism, the police belatedly booked Lim without detention eight days after the incident. The airline also decided to refuse his boarding, and the trial against Lim is now under way.
The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs is pushing a revision to aviation laws whereby violent passengers face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to US$ 90,000 (100 million won). There are various opinions about the level of suppressing unruly passengers, but it's clear that the ministry and aviation industry are struggling to make an effective improvement following the incident.
However, the flagrant offender who abused kind crew members physically and verbally terrorizing hundreds of other passengers was released from the police just because he was too drunk. In 2008, an eight-year-old girl was brutally raped by a drunk old man, Cho Doo-soon, outraging the whole nation. The case was infamously known as "The Nayoung Case." The man was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at the first trial, but got off 12 years at the second trial based on the fact that he was drunk at the time. Alcohol gave him a good excuse for such an horrible incident that almost killed a young girl. Come to think of it, the Korean society is strangely generous about alcohol.
In Islam, alcohol is defined as a liquid that distracts one's mind and is strictly forbidden. Bringing liquor is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, and only those permitted can buy a liquor in Qatar. Driving under the influence of alcohol in the Middle East can lead to hefty fine of approx. US$9,000 (10 million won) and even deportation. When I offer Middle East passengers a glass of liquor by mistake, they put on a serious look. And there are some Korean passengers looking for liquor just before arriving to the Middle East, saying they are sad because they won't be able to drink for a while.
In February 2016, Al Jazeera aired a documentary series entitled, "South Koreas' Hangover", which showed Korea's violent drinking culture. Al Jazeera revealed that there are 1.5 million alcoholics in Korea, which is twice the world average. The documentary pointed out many Koreans relieve their workplace stress by drinking which may lead to quarrels, abuse, crimes and assaults but there is no proper law to regulate such behaviors.
Mr. Lim, who was well aware of such circumstances, appealed to his esteemed judge for his "dependence on alcohol and sleep disorder." I don't want to blame the act of drinking itself, but I want to ask if it was necessary to be generous to the one who threatened the safety of the whole passengers and brought international shame because of his excessive drinking. This is an opportunity to strengthen the laws and regulations related to in-flight violence, and to make it clear that alcohol can never be an excuse.
*** Ji Byung-rim is a Qatar Airways cabin service director and the author of three books, including "How to Become a Crew of Arab Airline", "Thirty-year-old Crew', and "Charming Qatar." She also works as a K-MOVE mentor under Human Resources Development Service of Korea.