Since commercial airlines took to the air, drinking and flying have tended to go hand in hand, with drink seeming to add to the pleasing sense of disembodiment at 36,000ft. But for how much longer?
In the face of a rising tide of drink-fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour, highlighted by a boozy confrontation on a flight from Glasgow to Tenerife over the weekend that ended with one man badly injured, there are increasing calls for booze on flights and at airports to be restricted.
The government is reviewing licensing laws at airports as part of a broad rethink of aviation policy. It has yet to report, but World Duty Free has pre-empted any official announcement with its own initiative – selling duty-free booze only in sealed bags that, in theory, cannot easily be opened on the plane.
Rob Griggs, a spokesman for Airlines UK, welcomes the move, but thinks more will be needed. “Our priority is airside licensing,” he says. “The establishments that sell alcohol should be subject to the same licensing conditions as elsewhere.” It would then be up to the local authority, rather than the airport, to decide whether the 5am pint was acceptable.
Suzannah Robin, an alcohol and drug specialist at AlcoDigital, accepts Griggs’ argument that most drinking is done in the terminal rather than on the plane, and advocates breathalysing passengers who display signs of intoxication before they board. She says the Civil Aviation Authority has to take the lead. “They dictate that it’s illegal to be drunk on board an aircraft. They now need to establish what being drunk means and to have a fixed number. In the same way as you have a drink-drive limit, you would have a passenger limit, and as an authority they need to enforce the airport having a method of checking passengers before they board an aircraft.”
She doubts whether the relationship between booze and flying will ever be broken completely. “I’d be surprised if drinking was ever banned on flights,” she says. “The events that happen obviously become very well known very quickly because of social media, but it is a tiny percentage of the population that cause these issues. The airlines benefit because they sell alcohol on board; the airports benefit because they have establishments selling alcohol within their terminals; I can’t see them wanting to back down. You’re asking an entire nation to change what they do when they go on holiday because of the behaviour of a tiny minority. Being able to manage it would be better.”
Yes or no?