The Home Office is considering whether to limit the sale of alcohol at airports as travel organisations called for a change in the law.
A review of licensing laws at airport terminals across the country is to be launched, which could signal an end to early-morning drinking in airport bars and restaurants.
The government released more details on the proposals today (Thursday) by asking the public for evidence and views on whether introducing alcohol licensing laws at airports in England and Wales could help tackle the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers.
The call for evidence comes after the House of Lords Select Committee recommended that following a rise in reports of drunk and disorderly airline passengers, airside outlets that sell and supply alcohol to air travellers should comply with the same licensing rules as elsewhere.
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 our 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 remains safe and enjoyable.
“This is an excellent opportunity for all interested parties to engage directly with us, inform our understanding of the problem and identify suitable solutions.”
Feedback from interested parties will help the government establish the scale of the problem and assess the advantages and disadvantages of applying the Licensing Act 2003 to airside premises, the Home Office said.
Confirmation of the three-month review came as organisations from across the aviation and tourism sectors came together to call for the government to amend the Licensing Act to help curb the growing number of disruptive passenger incidents.
Groups calling for the exemption to be removed include Airlines UK, Abta, the Airport Services Association, the British Airline Pilots’ Association, the European Regional Airlines Association and the Unite union.
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “The problem of disruptive behaviour has got progressively worse over a number of years, despite the best efforts of industry to tackle it.
“There is no evidence to suggest these incidents won’t persist without the active involvement of government.
“Alcohol plays a major role in disruptive passenger incidents and so it is essential that its sale in airports is done responsibly.”
He added: “We do not want to stop passengers from enjoying a well-deserved drink in the airport and removing this unnecessary exemption will not do that. It will simply ensure that the same standards of responsible alcohol sale that any bar, pub or shop on the high street must follow are also applied to outlets airside.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: ‘’Disruptive passenger incidents are thankfully rare, but when they occur these incidents can have a serious impact on crew and other passengers.
“With alcohol a major causal factor in such incidents, we support measures to ensure that its sale in airports is done responsibly.
“Proportionate licensing can be part of the solution, whilst having no impact on the vast majority of travellers who enjoy a drink responsibly before their trip.”
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Excessive alcohol consumption and disruptive behaviour is a growing concern and beyond the potential threat they cause to the safety of the aircraft, air crew should not be expected to deal with violent or abusive passengers.
“We do not want to prevent passengers from enjoying a drink in the airport – we simply believe that alcohol sold in the airport should be done responsibly and excessive consumption not encouraged. Removing the exemption would do just that.”
Phil Ward, managing director of Jet2 said: “The issue of disruptive passenger behaviour caused by drinking too much alcohol is an unacceptable issue which continues to affect airports, airlines, our crew and our customers.
“Although our crew and colleagues are highly-trained and do a fantastic job in sometimes difficult circumstances, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to be left to manage the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, which range from abusive behaviour through to actual physical violence. At the same time, our customers travelling on their well-earned holidays should not be subjected to such behaviour on these occasions.
“All industry data shows that incidents of disruptive behaviour caused by excessive drinking show no sign of reducing, endorsing our position that this is a continuing issue. The figures show that the time to put rigorous measures in place is long overdue.
“There is no reason why alcohol sold in airports should not be done to the same rules and standards that apply on the high street, and the introduction of sealed bags for alcohol items purchased in Duty Free provides a simple practical solution to prevent the illicit consumption of duty free alcohol on board the aircraft.
“The majority of people get into the holiday spirit without overdoing it, but a minority can unfortunately spoil it for everyone else, which is why we want to protect everybody from the problems that alcohol-related disruptive behaviour causes.”
A loophole in licensing laws currently allows passengers to drink at any time once they have passed through security checks.
Plans for a clampdown have been supported by the Civil Aviation Authority, which has called for more prosecutions for drunken disorderly behaviour.
Ryanair has called for a ban on alcohol sales at airports before 10am and the introduction of a two-drink limit.
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