David Lucas



Airlines and The Licensing Act: Are their heads in the clouds?

David Lucas

BBC reports have indicated a 50% rise in arrests of drunken passengers in just one year, with the Home Office now considering tougher regulation. This could mean revoking the current exemption of airports from the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003. David Lucas, Head of Licensing at Fraser Brown Solicitors, shares key information regarding the implications of such a move, and discusses significant findings from a House of Lords Select Committee.


Many turned on the news last week to see graphic displays of physical abuse from customers on airlines, a behaviour which 1 in 5 cabin crew are said to experience in their career. In light of this, applying the same legislation as pubs and clubs to airports might now seem a viable option. However, the practicalities of this are more complicated and would require changes to legislation.

A Select Committee of the House of Lords published a post-legislative scrutiny report on the Licensing Act 2003, which noted similarly compelling findings.

  • Jet2.com wrote to say that in the summer of 2016 alone, they saw 536 disruptive incidents, with over half being alcohol-fuelled. 
  • The Civil Aviation Authority reported a 36% increase in disruptive passenger incidents in the UK between 2014 and 2015
  • Airside at Gatwick Airport has been subject to test purchases, with all but one alcohol retailer selling alcohol to under 18 year olds.

Improvements have since been made at Gatwick Airport, although this was not an offence that could bring sanctions due to the outlets being outside the jurisdiction of the Licensing Act 2003. 
The Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers, which was launched in 2016, now applies to 22 airports and also makes no mention of the underage sale of alcohol.

The Panorama report revealed that alcohol sales in airports have doubled in the past year, and account for 20% of all duty free custom. If the Licensing Act was to apply throughout airports it could result in a loss of revenue, which may be recouped through increases in the cost of flights.

“The current problem facing airlines is very real, but quite complicated to address,” explains David Lucas, a regional Chairman of the Institute of Licensing.  

“Amending existing regulations to address the airside issues would not be a complicated process, and would give licensing officers the ability to enforce the law throughout airports. However, it would go little way to tackling incidents once flights are airborne. Once in the air, the responsibility falls on the airlines to deal with alcohol-related issues..”

By making airside subject to the Licensing Act, airports could see the following changes

  • Reduced licensing hours
  • Outlets which sell alcohol becoming subject to test purchases
  • Selling alcohol to an underage person becoming a criminal offence

Licensing Associate Jo Soar is also concerned with how to prevent this growing issue:

“Much of the difficulty often lies with identifying a passenger that is drunk, or who you believe is not fit to be served alcohol. Turning people away or confiscating alcohol can be a difficult task, especially without supporting legislation in place. Extending the Licensing Act to include airside at airports may reduce the risk of an alcohol-related incident causing a flight to be diverted at great expense to the airline.” says Jo.

The Best Bar None scheme is supported by the Home Office and the drinks industry, to encourage best practice and responsible management and operation of licensed premises.

Despite Best Bar None being encouraged in the Code of Practice, it is not compulsory. Moreover, the Panorama investigation revealed that in a survey of 4,000 cabin crew members more than a quarter of them were unaware of the existence of the Code, and only 23% thought it was working.

The ALMR is the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers who, with others, helped to create the Code. However, according to written evidence provided to the House of Lords Select Committee they would now appear to believe that the Code is ineffective:

“The ALMR believes that sales of alcohol airside at international airports should no longer be exempt from the application of the Act. The original exemption was only introduced because of practicalities relating to enforcement airside rather than any regulatory or policy concerns relating to its sale... with no licence for alcohol sales, other operators who do not have the experience and training in alcohol retailing eg. coffee shops and quick service restaurants are unregulated.”

David believes that the application of licensing legislation airside would encourage the responsible sale and consumption of alcohol:

“There is clear room for further investigation as to how we enforce regulations around alcohol sales at airports. Making airports comply with the same national standards as other licensed premises would be an appropriate response to a growing issue.”

David Lucas is the Director and Regional Chairman of the Institute of Licensing, and the Director of national Best Bar None. David is also a member of the regional council of the BII, and acts as the Head of Licensing for Fraser Brown Solicitors.

For inquiries regarding how licensing could benefit you, you can contact David on 0115 959 7139 or email on dlucas@fraserbrown.com. Alternatively, you can call Jo Soar on 0115 9888 716 or email jsoar@fraserbrown.com.





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