According to recently-appointed aviation minister Tariq Ahmad, limitations are being considered on the sale of alcohol in airports and airport hotels. Currently, bars, restaurants and hotels located within UK airports are not subject to licensing laws, but this could be due to change.
Free from the restrictions of licensing laws, premises inside airports are currently able to serve drinks at any time of day. However, following a number of incidents at airports which involved passengers being intoxicated, this situation has come under review.
Food and drink service in airports is big business, and in recent years it has increasingly attracted major brands and outlets owned by prestigious chefs. Regarding round-the-clock alcohol sales outside of the licensing laws that govern other outlets, joint efforts by the police, operators, and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) have aimed to ensure order is kept. Despite these initiatives, however, problems have continued.
Drunk and disorderly passengers are still causing disruption, sometimes on a headline-grabbing scale. Just a few months ago, news outlets reported that a flight had been diverted after the arrest of six individuals who were causing problems while intoxicated during stag celebrations. According to the Press Association, which managed to obtain data under a freedom of information request, the past two years have seen 442 arrests of people, either at airports or aboard planes, who were suspected of being under the influence of alcohol.
As such, the aviation minister is now looking into whether there should be restrictions placed on alcohol service within airports. “I don’t think we want to kill merriment altogether,” said Mr Ahmad, “but I think it’s important that passengers who board planes are also responsible and have a responsibility to other passengers, and that certainly should be the factor which we bear in mind.”
Mr Ahmad particularly mentioned young families who would “want to go from point A to B” without being “disrupted.” As such, he said that he was going to “look at” the times of day at which alcoholic beverages could be sold by premises within airports, as well as considering the possibility of introducing passenger screening.
The BBPA is willing to assist the government in looking into possible changes in the law, according to the organisation’s chief executive Brigid Simmonds. Simmonds said: “As an industry we are keen for alcohol to be sold and drunk responsibly, including, of course, at airports.”
However, Simmonds also spoke in defence of the way servers handle the situation at present. She went on to point out that though licensing laws do not apply to airport premises, there are still “internal policies” followed by the industry “to ensure that alcohol is sold and consumed responsibly.” She also said that there are “considerable powers already in place to deter and deal with those that misuse alcohol when waiting to board a flight” and that the alcohol service industry had a “good track record” of promoting practices of responsible drinking at airports.
Stuart Jessop is an experienced Licensing Law Barrister based in Central London.