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Newly-hired employees of Japan Airlines (JAL) group attend the company group's initiation ceremony at a hangar of Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, April 2, 2018.
Reuters/Issei Kato
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HIGH AND DRY

Japan Airlines has reportedly asked its employees to stop drinking for the rest of 2018

By Lila MacLellan

In Japan, Oshogatsu, or the New Year holiday, is a family affair. People travel home for the event, visit a local shrine, and eat foods meant to bring good luck. The drinking and heavy socializing Westerners associate with the holiday come earlier, in the weeks leading up to Jan. 1. For employees of Japan Airlines (JAL), however, this season will be an exception.

The country’s flagship airline is in damage control mode, after a couple of recent scandals involving employees who indulged too much. Now the company has asked employees to refrain from drinking until the end of the year, the Japan Times reports, saying the airline has served only non-alcoholic drinks at company holiday parties. JAL confirmed the news, telling Quartz that the airline’s “executive management team will lead the company to incorporate safety measures to earn back the trust from our valued customers.”

One JAL co-pilot was detained by local police in the UK in October, when in the hour before his long-haul flight was due to depart, he appeared wobbly, with glazed eyes. His blood alcohol level was found to be well above the legal limit for pilots. The man, who had first cheated his pre-boarding alcohol test, was sentenced to 10 months in prison, and eventually fired.

Earlier this month, a flight attendant allegedly drank champagne while on duty on a flight between Japan and Hawaii. She has denied the accusation, but, Asahi reports, an empty 170 ml (5.75 oz) champagne bottle was found stashed in a garbage bin on the plane. That bottle had not been served to customers, it was determined. Plus, the crew had noticed the flight attendant making frequent trips to the bathroom.

For her mistake, JAL announced on Christmas Day that its president, Yuji Akasaka, would face a one-month 20% pay cut,  and the head of cabin crew on that flight would see 10% taken from her pay. Training and periodic testing would also be stepped up.

It’s possible that JAL is simply the first Japanese airline to suffer consequences for an industry-wide alcohol problem. A recent government survey of airline incidents involving the improper use of alcohol found JAL employees “were involved in 21 of the total of 31 cases in the period from the beginning of 2017 to November this year,” the Japan Times reports. However, the airline also has been first to adopt a highly sensitive new alcohol test, the paper notes. As other airlines upgrade their tests, they too could face a similar crisis.

Meanwhile, all 32,000 employees at JAL have apparently been asked to skip the sake this season, an unusually intrusive move for any company to make.

The airline, which promised to conduct staff-wide “alcohol consumption awareness training” and internal group discussions about alcohol, tells Quartz that “these recent directives taken by the company are not only said in words but are asking staff to follow through with action and fulfill our roles as a responsible organization.”

One employee commenting on the booze ban was accepting, telling the Japan Times that the situation “can’t be helped because we caused trouble.”

This article was updated on Dec. 28 with comments obtained from Japan Airlines.