The government says it has “no intention” of banning alcohol consumption at UK airports as it launches a consultation into airside drinking rules.
A “call for evidence” has been launched by the Home Office, encouraging the public to air their views on whether alcohol licensing laws should be introduced in UK airport terminals.
It comes as aviation and tourism bosses are calling on ministers to change the Licensing Act so that it covers bars, pubs, shops and restaurants selling alcohol beyond security gates, in a bid to cut down the “growing number” of disruptive passenger incidents.
A government spokesman said on Thursday: “While disruptive or drunk behaviour is unacceptable, we have no intention to ban the consumption of alcohol in airports.
“Most passengers behave responsibly while flying but the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers has gained prominence in recent years.
“Much of this evidence has been anecdotal, so this is simply a call for evidence which aims to establish the scale of the problem and seek views from industry and consumers.”
Currently, rules which stop airside outlets from selling alcohol to drunk passengers do not apply in the same way as they do to ordinary alcohol merchants.
Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said disruptive or drunk behaviour was “entirely unacceptable”.
“The government is committed to ensuring that the travelling environment for airline passengers remains safe and enjoyable,” she added.
“This is an excellent opportunity for all interested parties to engage directly with us, inform our understanding of the problem and identify suitable solutions.”
Currently, drunk passengers face hefty fines or two years in jail for being drunk on a flight.
The number of people arrested for being drunk in UK airports and on flights rose 50% in the year up to February 2017, a BBC Panorama investigation revealed in August.
And a 4,000-strong Unite survey found that 87% of UK cabin crew witnessed drunken passenger behaviour at UK airports or departure flights.
Tim Alderslade, head of trade association UK Airlines which represents carriers including easyJet and Ryanair, 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.”
He added that the change to licensing laws would ensure the “same standards of responsible alcohol sale” which apply to high street pubs and shops.
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. Oliver Richardson, Unite the Union
Oliver Richardson of Unite the Union, which represents civil aviation workers, 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.”
But a spokesman for pub chain JD Wetherspoon warned that passengers would find a way around the rules.
Eddie Gershon said: “Millions more people use airports than they did 20 years ago. Behaviour is generally excellent with almost zero incidents.
“If you ban alcohol at airs, 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.”
In January, a Ryanair flight from Alicante to Dublin made an unscheduled stop in the Spanish city of Santander thanks to two “disruptive” passengers thought to have been drinking.