One inflight cocktail not worth concocting

January 16, 2013


sleeping passenger small One inflight cocktail not worth concoctingTravelling between Los Angeles and Japan for business every six weeks, I managed to develop a few routines. I would make the same drive from home to the airport, seek out the same parking spot in the garage, take the same seat on a Boeing 747 aircraft, and follow the same sleep pattern.

But part of my routine needed to change; being awake for the 10-hour flight to Japan meant that I would suffer from jetlag for days.

I thought the solution to my problem was a prescription for the popular sleep aid Ambien coupled with a few alcoholic beverages.

I was wrong.

Before I begin, please understand that I don’t condone my behaviour on the flight I’m about to tell you about. I am not a medical doctor and I do not recommend any combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. The Ambien warning label strongly suggests not mixing the two. I wish I had adhered to the warning.

I boarded the upper deck, stowed my luggage in the closet, took my seat and waited for the arrival of my fellow seatmate.

Within moments of my arrival at 15F, a smiling flight attendant offered me a glass of sparkling wine. Another flight attendant, right on cue, offered to hang my jacket.

Just before our scheduled departure the chief purser made her announcement that passengers were to turn off all electronic devices and take their seats. Empty glasses were collected and not another soul claimed the seat next to me. I thought to myself, “This is going to be a special day!”

We pushed back, listened to the safety briefing, took off, got to cruising altitude, and the moment I was waiting for arrived- pre-dinner beverages. I ordered my routine Scotch and ginger, sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

Soon menus were handed out, orders taken, refills poured, and linens set on our tray tables. I then consumed a single 10mg tablet of Ambien. Having done my homework ahead of time – and knowing how long it takes the flight attendants to serve dinner – I knew if I took the tablet then, I’d have time to eat, finish dessert and be well on my way to slumberland without wasting a precious second of sleep time.

Dinner was served with a nice glass of Merlot. Shortly thereafter dishes were cleared away and the dessert cart made its way through the aisle.

I ordered my usual vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. And I ordered a Baileys to go along with it. A delicious combination, yum.

Desserts were finished, linens picked up and, because I was nowhere close to being asleep, I took out my laptop, kicked off my shoes, put my feet up, covered myself with the blanket and started to work on email.

Several minutes passed and the flight attendant came by and offered another drink. I ordered another Scotch and ginger.

Because I was not feeling the least bit sleepy, I make the “brilliant” decision to take another Ambien. I reasoned that if the first one didn’t work, two tablets should do the trick and put me in into the allusive sleep state I had been yearning for.

If you are keeping score, by now I had consumed a sparkling wine, two Scotch and gingers, a glass of Merlot, and a glass of Baileys. Not bad for a few hours into the flight. Oh, and not one, but two 10mg Ambien!

Still wide-awake, I took my Scotch and ginger to the galley to chat with one of the flight attendants for about 20 minutes. When we finished our conversation, I returned to my seat.

Back at my seat I felt totally comfortable. Life was good. I had seven hours to go. Okay, so the Ambien wasn’t working but what did I have to worry about? I had battled jetlag many times before and was prepared for what lay ahead.

The next thing I recall is the plane touching down at Tokyo Narita.

My shoes were back on my feet, my seatback was in the full, upright position, my tray table had been stowed and my computer was … somewhere.  I had no idea and I wasn’t sure if I cared.

Still groggy, I fell back asleep as the plane made its way to the gate; I didn’t awake until I heard the flight attendant make the PA announcement welcoming us to Narita.

But I couldn’t shake the cobwebs from my head.

I looked in the overhead bin for my computer bag but the bin was empty. I looked in the window storage compartment and, much to my surprise, found it there. I retrieved my carryon luggage, which was buried in the back of the closet.

While at the closet, I was greeted by one of the flight attendants with whom I had engaged in a great conversation just seven hours prior. She didn’t say a word to me but had an unusually large smile on her face.

I didn’t make much of it and proceeded down the stairs whilst wishing her a good stay in Japan.

At the bottom of the stairs, the Japanese-language flight attendant greeted me with a wink! I thought this was strange, as I didn’t remember seeing her during the flight.

Making my way through the airport towards customs and immigration, I noticed a completed immigration form in my shirt pocket. I didn’t remember filling one out during the flight, but there it was, in my pocket and in my handwriting. So strange.

As I walked through the airport, I noticed a clinking sound in my pants pocket. I checked one pocket and found two mini bottles of Scotch. In the other pocket I find a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of Gin.

Where did all this booze come from and how did it get into my pockets?

I cleared immigration and headed to the Narita Express train for my ride into Tokyo. Shinjuku Station is the second stop and the location of my hotel.

I boarded the train, stowed my luggage, took my seat and … immediately fell asleep.

The next thing I recall was being awoken by the train stopping at Tokyo station. I took a quick look around to confirm my whereabouts and immediately fell back asleep.

Again, I was awoken by the train stopping. This time we are at Shinjuku Station.

I gathered my luggage and made the short walk to my hotel. I checked in and took the elevator to my room.

Besides being unusually sleepy on the train, all seemed normal until I opened my carryon bag. Inside I found 10 additional mini bottles of booze -  10!! – and one large bottle of Sake.  How did they get there?  I didn’t have a clue!

Did I steal them?  That’s not like me so I don’t think so.

Did the flight attendants stash them as a joke or a parting gift?

Did fellow passengers see what was happening and put them in there as a joke?

I looked for a note or any other evidence of how they might have gotten in there but found nothing.

Now I was starting to get concerned. Thinking back to the events on the flight and airport, I could not recall who dressed me, who put my computer away, who put the bottles of booze in my pants pocket and who stashed them in my suitcase. I honestly don’t remember any of it.

Early that evening I went to bed and didn’t wake up until noon the next day. I missed dinner and my free sightseeing night and morning in Tokyo. If it weren’t for the cleaning lady, I might have slept the entire day away and missed my business meetings that afternoon.

It wasn’t until I returned home and talked with a nurse friend of mine when I learned the common effects of Ambien and alcohol. It seems as though sleepwalking is one of them.

I’m not sure if I sleepwalked for seven hours. But whatever happened, I’m grateful the flight attendants bid me adieu with a smile rather than introduce me to law enforcement. Grateful and lucky.

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About Brian Coleman

I’ve spent my entire working career in the computer industry, and have over 2 million miles on United alone. One year I held premier status on four different airlines. I never considered writing until last year when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. I turned to writing as a form of therapy.

View all posts by Brian Coleman

14 Responses to “One inflight cocktail not worth concocting”

  1. Barbara Cockburn Says:

    A great piece Brian. I was hooked from one paragraph to the next.
    I’m too scared to have sleeping pills because I would hate not knowing what was happening to me.
    I have never been able to sleep in an aircraft cabin so I will suffer from jetlag and I seem to cope best by shutting myself off from colleagues (if it’s possible to do) once I reach my destination and sleep until the timezone’s morning. I’m one of the lucky ones who could sleep anywhere.
    I hope you have sought a more effective solution to help ease your jetlag.


  2. Hyginia Says:

    I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading your story!… You were very lucky!!!! Thanks for the warning!


  3. Anthony Jones Says:

    Great article Brian, scary to say the least, but written well and thankfully with humor.

    My trick has always been taking Melatonin at my destination’s midnight, whenever that occurs during, or even at the outset of the flight, and absolutely no alcohol on the plane. I may only sleep for a couple of hours but it does the trick of deferring any initial jet lag for me. I also take a second melatonin on the first night at my destination, also at midnight.

    Boring I know, but little or no jet lag for me without prescription drugs, is so nice :)

    I am looking forward to your next shared traveling adventure.


  4. Jeff Richards Says:

    Hi Brian. I have taken that route several times, and I just accept that jet-lag will be a part of the trip since I simply cannot sleep on a plane with or without Ambien. I have had similar experiences with Ambien; fortunately not in public (that I know of). One night I took 10mg but didn’t lay down right away. The next morning, I saw a couple emails in my Sent Items folder I have NO recollection writing (perhaps a little weird in wording and context, but fortunately not a resume-producing-event) and my wife and daughter told me “you were acting really weird last night”. The first thought is “Oh God, what did I do?”.

    I was smiling the whole article knowing exactly what was coming. So I take it you never found out how entertaining you were on the flight?

    Moral of the story: When you take an Ambien, LAY DOWN!


  5. Simon Says:

    Perhaps somewhere there are grainy iPhone videos of your activities on the “ambien flight” I hope they never surface. I take Tylenol PM and try to limit my alcohol intake on long over night flights. Sometimes it works and sometimes I suffer.
    Great story!


  6. Deloris Coleman Says:

    Terrific article Brian. Hope now you just take two Tylenol pm and don’t have a drink with them. I’m really impresses with your writing ability! Keep may have found a new career! Mom


  7. David Gleason Says:

    Brian, well done and thank you for sharing this information. Sadly we just helped bury a wonderful 21-year-old, the son of a dear friends who casually mixed alcohol and prescription drugs (that were not prescribed for him); he went to bed and never woke up. And many of my colleagues routinely take alcohol with Xanax to sleep on international flights. I don’t have an answer to the travel dilemma — my last trip back to San Francisco from Tel Aviv took 25 hours and I couldn’t sleep for 5 days! Hopefully we will find a solution that is safe. It’s also good to know what you are doing these days!


  8. Alicia Coleman Says:

    That seemed to be a very humorous, yet mildly troublesome, venture! You should consider writing larger pieces; that was a good story.


  9. Sami Says:

    Funny…. I don’t have two million miles on United (only one million two hundred thousand) but if you add my platinum status from Pan Am days, well you get the picture. I have a hard time sleeping normally and cannot sleep on planes. On one of my flights to Asia, I took an Ambien and had one glass of wine. I forgot that I had taken a pill, so i took another one. I did manage to get some sleep and finally woke up as we were landing. Unlike you, I was about to throw up. I dashed towards the toilette and was held back by the cabin attendant at the door. I bet she would never do that agin. By her delaying me, I did not make it in time into the bathroom and let go right there… stayed in the bathroom till everyone was off so I could hide my embarrassment. Needless to say, I do not mix any more!


  10. judy nicoll-luedeke Says:

    Brian, As a former Guidance Counselor I would say without question you do have a brillant chance with an additional career in writing = no just witty, but soulful and I felt like you were speaking to me with articulation and wit on a very serious topic = “personal neglect” of common sense! nough sed.


  11. Beth Says:

    I agree with the reader who suggested Melatonin, so much better than prescriptions and don’t leave you feeling groggy. 3-5 Valerian Root capsules would do the trick as well. I know it’s hopeless to advise YOU against drinking so I won’t even try, but next time skip the ambien. Although it sounds as if it made you quite popular with the ladies so maybe it’s not all bad. Keeep the great articles coming!


  12. danvansoup Says:

    Butthead. I bet you stayed up all night drinking and flirting with stewardesses, and drinking, and buying everybody drinks. Next time, read the label and at least you’ll be able to remember the party. butthead!


  13. Koppa Dasao Says:

    Sounds like you at least was a nice guy when you were out cold, and not a drunk Norwegian berserk…



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