UK airports and food & beverage operators reject irresponsibility claims over alcohol

UK. Airport executives and food & beverage operators have rejected media claims that they are acting irresponsibly in not controlling alcohol consumption levels of passengers who later cause disruption on planes.

British newspaper The Daily Telegraph published a report at the weekend which claimed airlines believe the country’s airports are becoming a “wild west’ of unregulated alcohol consumption and subsequent disruptive behaviour.

The report said that airlines are increasingly frustrated with the lack of licensing laws at airports amid warnings that they are “saturated with booze”.

The Daily Telegraph source blamed airport commercial operators for allowing and even encouraging irresponsible liquor consumption. But airport companies and their business partners insist they take their responsibilities seriously.

The newspaper cited an industry source who said that some retailers had become “totally irresponsible” and are trying to “pre-load” customers with as much drink as possible before they board flights.

The source said: “Lets me honest,  a large number of cheap flights are too short for people to get that drunk, its what they are drinking before they get on the plane that’s the problem. You’ve got totally irresponsible high street chains selling alcohol in airports without licenses and there are no penalties if they are found to be selling it irresponsibly.

“Airports have failed to respond to the culture shift and there’s just no coordination between the retailers and the police. It’s the airlines who are left to clear up the damage.”

The story came in the wake of several widely reported incidents of drunken inflight behaviour by British passengers, some linked to the onboard consumption of duty free liquor bought at the departure airport. On 29 July an Englishman was banned from flying with Jet2 for life and billed £12,000 after his aggressive behaviour led to a Cyprus-bound flight being forced to land in Manchester.

This and other controversies prompted new Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad to suggest passengers should be stopped from drinking too much pre-flight. He hinted at a government review of airport drinking regulations.

But leading F&B operators approached by The Moodie Davitt Report have defended their policies and insisted they take their responsibilities seriously.

A voluntary code of practice on disruptive passengers (see below) has been developed by members of the British Air Transport Association, the Airport Operators Association, the Airport Police Commanders Group, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, and the UK Travel Retail Forum.

Signatories include Manchester Airports Group and London Gatwick, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Glasgow airports. A number of airlines have also signed, including easyJet, Flybe, Monarch, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

Autogrill-owned HMSHost, the world’s leading airport F&B operator, told The Moodie Davitt Report: “As part of our wider food & beverage offering at our outlets across the UK we serve a variety of alcoholic beverages. The personal safety of our guests and those around them is a top priority for HMSHost International and our approach to alcohol sales reflects this.

“To that end, we have policies and practices in place that are designed to mitigate irresponsible drinking behaviour among our guests. These align with the stipulations and constraints of the airports we partner with, and align with the stipulations and constraints of UK licensing law.

“All of our employees are trained in UK licensing law and in measures to prevent underage drinking – always questioning a guest’s age if any doubt – or excessive consumption – never serving anyone who is intoxicated – and in measures to address guests’ misuse of alcohol and/or aggressive behaviour. Our staff know to work in tandem with police should issues arise.

“These matters are taken seriously by all staff and are addressed regularly in team meetings at all of our locations in the UK. We care about the safety of our employees and customers and follow our corporate social responsibility guidelines including all UK legislations. For this reason, we disagree with the claim that operators are ‘totally irresponsible’ and trying to ‘pre-load’ customers with as much drink as possible pre-flight. “

Signatories to the UK Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers take a “zero-tolerance approach” to such behaviour

Another leading industry player SSP was similarly insistent about the rigour of its approach. “Across all our estate, we follow a prudent and strict set of guidelines when it comes to selling alcohol,” the company told us. “This begins with a meticulous training programme. This is supported by regular reviews to ensure that the correct procedures are being followed.”

So how did the concessionaire react to claims that operators are “totally irresponsible” and trying to “pre-load” customers with as much drink as possible pre-flight?

“At our outlets, we aim to create an atmosphere where all customers, be they families, business people or those travelling in groups for leisure, can feel welcome and relaxed,” it replied. “Of course it is therefore not in our interests to encourage excessive drinking.”

“Each of our units apply the regulations stipulated by licensing law – this includes policies, training and processes,” says Heathrow Airport. Photo of Huxleys Bar & Kitchen courtesy of TripAdvisor.

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said: “We already work closely with our airline partners to ensure all of our passengers have a safe and enjoyable experience when travelling and as a result incidents of disruptive behaviour are a rare occurrence at Heathrow.

“Each of our units at Heathrow apply the regulations stipulated by licensing law – this includes policies, training and processes.”

Birmingham Airport Head of Commercial Richard Gill told The Moodie Davitt Report: “There are two issues here, the BATA [British Air Transport Association] code of practice and press reports which may have been taken out of context last week about a ‘government review’ which we understand is not on the agenda.

“The purpose of the code  [click here to download]  is to create a common, consistent approach that co-ordinates and enhances existing efforts to prevent and minimise disruptive passenger behaviour, which is still very rare.

Wetherspoon at Birmingham Airport is one of the UK’s most successful airport pubs. Richard Gill, Head of Commercial at the airport, insists that all its operators employ responsible staff with relevant licensing certification and operate in a professional manner.

“Signatories to the code, including Birmingham Airport, participate voluntarily because they are committed to ensuring passengers have a consistently safe and enjoyable experience when flying for work or leisure, and to providing a safe and pleasant work environment for all.”

Gill said that certain clear principles underpin the code:

*              All passengers are responsible and accountable for their own behaviour;

*              Disruptive behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated;

*              Reducing disruptive behaviour is a shared responsibility of all partners on the ground and in the air;

On the question of licensing regulations, Gill said: “Although all airside bars and restaurants are not governed by relevant licensing law, we do expect that all employ responsible persons with relevant licensing certification and all concession partners operate in a professional manner. Bars and restaurants do not operate 24 hours and will only trade in conjunction with flight operational times.

“We work with all operators and airport police to ensure that whilst we want all passengers to enjoy their airport experience, they all do so in a responsible manner, and local procedures and joint collaborations ensure any issues are eliminated before they arise.”

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