Airside licensing needed at airports to curb rising disruptive passenger incidents

November 1, 2018

Organisations from across the aviation and tourism sectors have come together to call for the Government to amend the Licensing Act so that it in future applies to bars, pubs, restaurants and retail outlets selling alcohol airside at airports, in an order to help curb the growing number of disruptive passenger incidents across the UK. The statement comes in response to a Government Call for Evidence that was published on the issue today.    

Organisations calling for the exemption to be removed include Airlines UK, the trade association for UK airlines that represents 13 UK carriers; the Airport Services Association (ASA), which represents the interests of the global aviation ground services community at more than 250 airports; the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) which represents over 85% of all commercial pilots in the UK; Unite the Union, the largest body in UK civil aviation covering individual members; ERA (European Regions Airline Association), representing European aviation including 50 airlines; and ABTA – The Travel Association, the leading association of travel agents and tour operators.

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, the trade association for UK airlines, 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. 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.”

The Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003, which published a report on the Licensing Act in 2017 advocating the change, said:

The Committee concluded that there is simply no justification for the Licensing Act not to apply to sales airside at airports. Our report showed that removing the exemption can be done quickly and so with alcohol related disruptive passenger incidents continuing, the Government must take this action immediately.”

 Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, 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.”

 Jon Conway, Director General of the Airport Services Association, said: 

“It is unacceptable when passengers and staff at the airport suffer because of an intoxicated minority. Although industry is working hard to tackle the issue of disruptive passengers collectively, Government can and should assist these efforts by removing this outdated exemption.”

Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), 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.”

 Montserrat Barriga, Director General of ERA (European Regions Airline Association), said: 

“Modern day air travel is now very accessible with more people flying than ever before. However, the industry has seen an increase in disruptive passenger behaviour, with most cases being the result of excessive alcohol consumption. 

 “Such behaviour has the potential to impact on both the safety and security of an aircraft and should not be tolerated. Although airlines monitor and counteract such behaviour with specific cabin crew training, the airports also have a role to play in ensuring such instances of disruptive behaviour are mitigated prior to a passenger boarding the aircraft, including the responsible sale of alcohol at the airport outlets.

 “ERA supports the removal of this unnecessary exemption, which we believe will improve standards of safety and security whilst still affording passengers the opportunity to drink responsibly before boarding their flight.”

Oliver Richardson, National Officer, Civil Air Transport from Unite the Union, said:

“Air crew and airport staff should not have to suffer from verbal or even physical abuse at their workplace from an intoxicated few. Airside bars, pubs and retailers must be held to the same standards as outlets in our towns and cities, to ensure that excessive alcohol consumption is not encouraged.”