Alcohol sales in airports


2 November 2018

By Roger Brice

Alcohol sale is a multi-million pound business. Drinking and socialising is usually associated with having a good time and we tend to drink more when we are celebrating. However, morning drinking in airports, is facing a ban.

An early morning drink in UK airports could become a thing of the past. The Government is looking into the issues surrounding drunken disruptive behaviour at airports and on flights by limiting the hours passengers can drink alcohol. There will be a review of licensing laws at airport terminals across the country which could put an end to early morning drinking.

Airlines have been calling for reform on the sale of alcohol before flights following a number of incidents relating to drunken behaviour, claiming that they are being left to deal with the consequences of intoxicated passengers.

This summer more than 140 people saw their flight from Bristol to Prague cancelled as a result of the behaviour of a group of men from Wales on a stag do. Bristol airport wants to prevent drunk passengers from boarding planes and low-cost airline EasyJet said that it wanted to ban passengers from drinking duty-free alcohol in planes and in airports.

The Home Office has launched a review into whether to extend high-street licensing laws into departure halls and terminals which would see pubs and restaurants being unable to serve alcohol until 10 AM. Sales of alcohol beyond the security gates at international airports in England and Wales are not regulated by the same laws as the high Street.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said 'air travel often marks the start of an exciting holiday abroad and airports are places to eat, drink and shop as we wait to board flights. Most UK air passengers behave responsibly when flying, but any disruptive or drunk behaviour is entirely unacceptable. This Government is committed to ensuring that the travelling environment for airline passengers remain safe and enjoyable. This is an excellent opportunity for all interested parties to engage directly with others, inform our understanding of the problem and identify suitable solutions.'

In September, the airline industry warned that drunk passengers could expect to face a fine of up to £80,000 if a plane has to be diverted because of disruptive behaviour. Passengers found drunk on a flight could be fined up to £5000 and jailed for up to 2 years for breaching air navigation orders.

In August last year investigation by BBC ones Panorama revealed that there had been more than a 70% increase in arrests relating to drunken behaviour on flights or at UK airports, rising from 225 in the year running up to February 2016 to 387 in the subsequent 12 months.

The Select Committee recommended in its report, published in April 2017, that in light of the increased number of alcohol related incidents at airports in recent years, the government should revoke the exemptions from the Act that apply to 24 international airports in England and Wales. The government committed to issuing a call for evidence in response to this recommendation.

The aim of this call for evidence is to allow the government to assess:

  • the true scale of the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers at international airports in England and Wales
  • the extent to which airports and airlines use effectively the existing statutory powers and other measures to address the problem
  • the impact of these interventions as well as the proposed application of the Act

The call for evidence is broken into 5 main sections:

Section 1: scale of the problem of drunk and disruptive airline passengers

Section 2: effectiveness and limitations of the current statutory and voluntary instruments in managing the problem of drunk and disruptive airline passengers

Section 3: the impact the Act could have on addressing the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers if applied airside at international airports in England and Wales

Section 4: economic implications of applying the Act airside at international airports in England and Wales

Section 5: administration of the Act airside: feasibility and practicalities

The Government wants to hear from a range of individuals, public sector organisations, airlines, airports and businesses, about the extent to which the problem of drunk of disruptive passengers affects them. They want to establish whether a legislative intervention is necessary and what implications, if any, a decision to maintain or remove the exemption under the Licensing Act 2003 would have.

The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 1st February 2019

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