News Help - Drunks on the Plane

Will the irresponsible few affect us all?

Many of you will have read that the Aviation Minister, Lord Ahmad is examining how alcohol is provided both at airports and on board planes.  This is as a result of a number of recent incidents involving drunk passengers.  Indeed, 442 were held on suspicion of being drunk at an airport or on a plane in the last two years. 

Legally, at airports, there is a distinction between “landside” and “airside”.  This means that beyond the security “check-ins” the Licensing Act 2003 (“the Act”), including the requirement to have a premises licence and all that goes with it does not apply.  I can purchase my large gin and tonic with a plate of bacon and eggs at 6am if I wish (nervous flyer!) but then so can my 10 year old son!  There is no premises licence and therefore no hours of operation restricting the sale of alcohol, no age limits or offences such as selling to a “drunk” can be committed.  The same applies to the provision of alcohol on the aircraft where (as with trains and boats) the Act again does not apply.  For those of us with a liberal disposition I always thought it interesting that there seemed to be so few problems at these places where there was no statutory regulation, albeit, of course, for many passengers time restraints prior to take off limit the consumption of food and drink including alcohol. 

In addition, of course there is regulation even if the Act does not apply; there is a contract between the supplier of alcohol and the airport and there will be the company’s own internal operating procedure and staff training which will almost certainly mirror that of any “landside” premises such as operating Challenge 21 / 25 and not to serve anyone who appears to be drunk.  Indeed, because of the potential serious consequences of anyone being drunk on an aeroplane there is an argument that these premises exercise greater care than their equivalents on the high street. 

Whilst Lord Ahmad has indicated that he does not want to end “merriment” he does have the power to do something about it.  This is because airports are only regulatory-free because of s173 of the Act, but that contains a provision whereby this could be removed.  This does not apply to the provision of alcohol actually on the plane which would need an amendment to the Act itself and there is much evidence to suggest that the majority if not all airlines adopt a responsible approach.  The headline grabbing Ibiza / Majorca stag / hen parties normally involve young people who have consumed the majority of the alcohol either before arriving or at the airport or both. 

It is the same old story; will the irresponsible few affect us all?  Let us hope that this small minority will not prevent those of us from enjoying that first relaxing pre-holiday beer.