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Fit to fly report

Drunk, disruptive air passenger numbers on the rise

Three out of five British adults who travel by air (60%) have encountered drunk passengers whilst on a flight, according to a report published today.

Fit to Fly, by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the European Alcohol Policy Alliance, found that the majority (51%) of Brits believe there is a serious problem with excessive alcohol consumption in air travel. Drunk passengers who become aggressive on planes threaten the safety of other passengers, including children. Cabin crew have reported being sexually assaulted, kicked, punched and headbutted by drunk passengers.

Though it is an offence to be drunk on a plane, incidents of drunk and disruptive passengers have increased significantly in recent years, according to the Civil Aviation Authority, the body which regulates air travel in the UK. Fit to Fly finds that nearly a quarter of GB adults (24%) drink alcohol at the airport, and only 2% of adults reported drinking four drinks or more, indicating that a minority of passengers drinking excessively may be putting other passengers’ safety at risk.

The YouGov survey behind the report also found that:*

  • 86% respondents support the same licensing laws applying to shops and bars selling alcohol in the airport as shops and bars on the high street
  • 74% respondents support the restriction of alcohol consumption at airports to bars and restaurants only, meaning that alcohol bought at duty free cannot be consumed in the airport
  • 67% respondents support a limit on the quantity of alcohol that people are allowed to consume in the airport 
  • 64% respondents support breathalysing at departure gates 
  • 59% respondents support drinking alcohol brought from home or bought at the airport on-board a plane to be an offence (excluding alcohol bought whilst on the plane)
  • 55% respondents support time restrictions on when alcohol can be sold at airports

There have already been several reports in the media this summer about drunk passengers on planes, including cases where they have assaulted other passengers, or where flights have had to be diverted so that passengers could be removed from the plane.

Jennifer Keen, Head of Policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said:

‘The start of a holiday should be a happy and relaxing time for families. Instead people can be put in scary and, sometimes, frankly dangerous situations by a minority of people who drink too much and become disruptive on planes.

‘The government needs to do more to protect ordinary passengers from those who get drunk and aggressive. There is no clear reason why shops and bars in airports should be exempted from normal licensing rules when drunk people in the air are a much bigger safety risk to others than drunk people in the high street.’

Fit to Fly follows a 2017 House of Lords Committee recommendation that the UK Government extend the Licensing Act 2003 to airside premises. Normal licensing laws don’t apply to premises in airports after security, which means there aren’t the same rules preventing sale of alcohol to people who are already drunk. The report calls on government to take action to tackle the problem by:

    •    Extending licensing laws so that bars and shops in airports are covered by the same laws as bars and shops in the high street.
    •    Signing up to an international treaty to empower police forces on the ground to prosecute disruptive passengers.
    •    Bringing in rules about duty-free alcohol so that anything bought in a shop is sent directly to the departure gate in a sealed container, or placed directly in the hold, to stop people drinking alcohol from a duty-free shop in the airport lounge.

Diarmuid Ó Conghaile, Ryanair’s Director of Public Affairs, commented:

‘Ryanair welcomes this report by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, highlighting the problems associated with the misuse of alcohol by a small number of passengers, which creates disturbance and disruption to others. Regulatory measures are available to address this problem, including amending licensing laws for airports and statutory prohibition of consumption on an aircraft of alcohol which a passenger has brought with him/her.

‘Problems do not arise from the sale of alcohol on board, as the measures are small, the flights short, and sales controlled by trained staff. Ryanair thanks the Institute of Alcohol Studies for its important contribution, and calls on the UK government to make the necessary changes.’

The government is expected to launch a call for evidence on the issue in due course.

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2016 adults, of which 1,792 have travelled by air. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th - 16th July 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).