Calls for end of 24-hour drinking in airports as Scotland emerges from Covid-19

22 February 2022, 13:29 | Updated: 22 February 2022, 13:47

Public health experts in Scotland want to see an end to 24 hour airport drinking
Health experts in Scotland want to see an end to 24 hour airport drinking (file image shows a bar in Edinburgh airport). Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Public health experts in Scotland want to see an end to 24 hour airport drinking in the wake of the Covid pandemic which saw many airside bars and restaurants close.

Airports and aircraft are exempt from licensing laws which control how and when alcohol is sold and many holidaymakers ike to have a drink before boarding their plane - no matter the time of day.

However it is claimed the selling of alcohol round the clock in airports contributes to the "normalisation" of heavy drinking.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns were regularly raised about disruption to travel as well as passenger safety, due to people drinking to excess in airports, and continuing to drink once onboard.

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“With the closure of many bars in airports we have an opportunity to rethink what we want from our travel experience.

"At the very least we should be bringing airside alcohol sales into the licensing system to prevent alcohol-related harm, making travel safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Dr Linda de Caestecker, Glasgow’s director of public health, said she would welcome tighter restrictions on pub opening times at airports.

“This is a very exciting time for so many holidaymakers, as Covid-19 restrictions have allowed for travel to become a reality again.

"This is good news for those looking to get away to relax but it is also an opportunity for us to rethink our relationship with alcohol as a society.

"Of course, people go on holiday to unwind and enjoy themselves, but I would welcome greater restrictions on bar opening times in airports to avoid the culture of normalising drinking for every social occasion."

In 2018, the UK Government announced plans to look at the issue in England and Wales, and has suggested banning alcohol sales at pubs from 4am to 8am.

However Scotland has the highest alcohol death rate in the UK with a five-year average of 20.5 deaths per 100,000 population and new figures from Public Health Scotland published today, also showed that while rates of hospital stay related to alcohol fell, rates of alcohol-specific death increased.

That was despite total alcohol sales being 9% lower in 2020 than the 2017-19 annual average, and 16% lower in January to May 2021 than for the same period in 2017-19.

Sales of alcohol through supermarkets and shops increased during the pandemic, but sales through pubs, clubs and restaurants decreased substantially due to the Covid restrictions. 

Budget airlines have already backed the restriction of pub opening hours to cut down on disruptive passengers and resultant delays. Jet2 told a government committee that it handled 536 incidents involving disruptive passengers in 2016 alone and a majority involved drunken passengers.

However, those opposed to change say the number of incidents is small compared with passenger numbers.

A spokesperson for the Airport Operators Association (AOA) said: “Thankfully incidents of disruptive behaviour are a very rare.

"However, where they do happen the impact can have serious consequences.

“Prior to the pandemic, airports worked with airport police, bars, restaurants and retailers as well as with airlines to develop the UK Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers.

“The code sets out how we work to further reduce incidents of disruptive behaviour and airports believe this continues to be the best way to tackle this issue as passenger return post-pandemic.

"Disruptive behaviour, including due to excessive alcohol consumption, is not acceptable. Passengers should be aware that consequences of such behaviour could include losing a holiday because they are denied boarding as well as fines, flight bans and prison sentences for the most serious offences.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The vast majority of people travelling through airports behave responsibly."

"There are already effective laws in place to deal with unruly passengers and the Scottish Government has no current plans to introduce the licensing of airside bars."

The government added that no airport bars were currently open 24 hours as there are no departing passengers between about 9.30pm and 5am.