Wetherspoon’s warns against "draconian" licensing rules as government launches review into airport booze

JD Wetherspoon slammed the possibility of “more draconian licensing restrictions” for air passengers, as the government launched a review into alcohol licensing laws at airports.

The pub chain, which operates airside outlets at UK airports, called instead for more analysis on the “minority of incidents” involving drunk and disorderly passengers.

The government has today launched a “call for evidence” on airport alcohol licensing laws, to review whether they should match the rules that govern high street pubs and restaurants, which restrict alcohol sales before 10am. The move could restrict the sale of alcohol to passengers just before they board flights, potentially spelling an end to early-morning drinks for holidaymakers.

It comes amid a rise in reports of drunk and disorderly passengers onboard aircraft.

“Millions more people use airports than they did 20 years ago. Behaviour is generally excellent with almost zero incidents. If you ban alcohol at airports, in some way, people will still bring their own or drink outside. Wetherspoon’s airport pubs have the highest sales of food and coffee within the company’s 900 pubs,” said JD Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon in a statement to The Independent.

Wetherspoon’s operates pubs at eight airports across England and Scotland, including The Windmill airside at Stansted Airport, which opens at 3.30am at the weekend. 

“If you are starting your holidays, why not toast the occasion with a glass of our Italian Teresa Rizzi sparkling rosé (11.5% ABV) or a cheeky Aperol spritz, served with Aperol and Prosecco, a dash of soda and an orange wedge?” says Wetherspoon’s dedicated airport pub page.

Currently, booze sales at pubs and restaurants that are “airside” – after security – are not regulated by high-street licensing laws.

But the crackdown could exclude airline lounges for premium passengers, as they typically provide alcohol complimentary, according to The Sun.

“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,” said Victoria Atkins, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability.

“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.”

Airlines including Ryanair and Jet2 welcomed the review.

“We continue to call for significant changes to prohibit the sale of alcohol at airports, such as a two-drink limit per passenger and no alcohol sales before 10am,” said a Ryanair spokesperson. “It’s incumbent on the airports to introduce these preventative measures to curb excessive drinking and the problems it creates, rather than allowing passengers to drink to excess before their flights.”

“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,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade association for UK airlines.

“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.”

A number of trade body heads have come out in support of the review, including Abta, the Airport Services Association, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), European Regional Airlines Association and Unite the Union.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of 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.”

Reports of drunk and disorderly passengers have been well-documented. A report by the Civil Aviation Authority found there were 418 instances of disruptive behaviour by passengers on UK flights in 2016, more than double in the previous year.

In July, a campaign called ‘One Too Many’ launched at 10 airports across the UK, warning UK passengers against drunk and disorderly behaviour.

In January, a Ryanair flight from Alicante to Dublin was diverted to remove two “disruptive” passengers who were believed to have been drinking. Ryanair used the incident to highlight the need for airports to reduce the number of drinks passengers can consume before a flight.

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