Rise in arrests of drunk air passengers

The number of people arrested for being drunk at UK airports and on flights has risen by 50% in the last year, leading to calls for tougher measures on selling alcohol in duty free.

According to a BBC ‘Panorama’ investigation that will air tonight, between February 2016 and February 2017 387 people were arrested in UK airports for being drunk and disorderly, a 50% rise from the 255 people arrested in the previous year.

The Civil Aviation Authority has reported a 600% increase in “disruptive” incidents on flights in the UK between 2012 and 2016, with “most” involving alcohol although it put this down to an improvement in the reporting of such incidents rather than an actual rise in their occurrence.

The Panorama producers surveyed 19,000 of the Unite union’s cabin crew members, of which 4,000 responded.

Over half of them said they had witnessed “disruptive” drunken behaviour and one in five had suffered physical abuse.

A former crew member, Ally Murphy, who quit in October last year after 14 years, told ’Panorama’: “People just see us as barmaids in the sky,” and added she had been groped on occasion by drunken passengers.

The aviation authority introduced a code of conduct in July 2016 which most of the leading British airlines and airports have signed up to.

The code’s advice includes duty free retailers warning passengers that they should not drink alcoholic purchases on their flight and cabin crews should not serve passengers who are visibly drunk.

It is in fact already a criminal offence to enter an aircraft while drunk or to be drunk on an aircraft and carries a maximum sentence of a two year imprisonment.

Many of the cabin crew interviewed by Panorama meanwhile said they were “unaware” of the code and those that were mostly said it wasn’t working.

In one filming segment of the programme, an undercover reporter at World Duty Free in Manchester Airport asks if she can drink her purchase on the plane to which she is told, “officially probably not, unofficially I think you’ll get away with it.”

Another shop in the airport gave the correct advice while World Duty Free told the broadcaster it was “committed to dealing with the issue,” and “advisory notices” were placed both in-store, at tills and on receipts and carrier bags.

Trade body Airlines UK has said that the consumption of duty free alcohol on-board an aircraft should be made a criminal offence.

Meanwhile, a recent House of Lords committee this April that reviewed the Licensing Act of 2003 also called for tougher laws on the sale of alcohol at airports, with chairwoman Baroness McIntosh of Pickering saying there was not, “one shred of evidence to show the voluntary code was working.”

Airports are currently exempt from the Licensing Act which the committee said should come to an end.

The report has been published and is still awaiting a government response.

In the meantime, over the years various airlines have taken measures into their own hands on what are likely to be ‘problem routes’.

Ryanair banned duty free alcohol on its flights to Ibiza in 2015, while the head of tourism for the Balearic Islands has urged the EU to ban alcohol on flights into its airports in response to numerous drunken incidents.

Such measures, if more broadly adopted, could have a severe impact on the lucrative alcohol duty free market.

Often seen as a ‘shop window’ for many companies and brands, duty free is often home to numerous exclusive and limited edition releases and in places such as the Far East is an enormous industry.

According to the UK Travel Retail Forum, travellers in UK airports spent £300 million on alcohol last year, a fifth of the £1.5bn total.

‘Panorama: Plane Drunk’ will air on BBC One tonight at 20:30 BST.

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