Before anyone gets the wrong idea I enjoy alcohol and drink probably my 14 units most weeks. But I was shocked to arrive at Edinburgh airport at 9.30 am on a normal friday to find all the bars full and people of all ages consuming huge volumes of alcohol. The bars were packed. The best sight was a man eating a fairly large Scottish Cooked breakfast and sipping an equally large brandy. Is this normal and is this healthy? Should anyone care?
The Scottish government certainly do. On their own website they make the stark observation that “It is becoming increasingly evident that as a nation our relationship with alcohol has become unbalanced”. Further observations are that a fifth more alcohol per adult is drunk in Scotland compared with England and Wales, that 40% of prisoners were drunk at the time of their offence, and that although alcohol consumption may have declined since 2009, it had previously increased hugely over the previous 30 years. Alcohol related deaths had increased by a factor of 1.5 times since 1980. Sales in 2015 were 20% higher in Scotland than they were in England and Wales, with each adult consuming the equivalent of 477 pints of beer. Currently although there had been some reduction in drinking, sales of alcohol have now increased for the second year in succession. In 2015 total sales were the equivalent to 41 bottles of vodka or 116 bottles of wine for each adult. There was some evidence this morning that most of that quantity might be consumed in Edinburgh airport.
Should this be a matter of concern to anyone? People are free to do what they like mostly, however the societal cost is massive in terms of poor health and alcohol related criminal damage. There are probably a hundred views and opinions on that observation. The point of this article is simply to point out the huge amount of early morning drinking going on before flights. The statistics about cost to society and the person also make salient reading. There were 35,059 alcohol-related hospital stays in 2014/15, 91% resulted from an emergency admission and 71% of alcohol-related stays were men. Alcohol harm costs Scotland £3.6 billion a year in health, social care, crime, productive capacity and wider costs.
The government of course will take a view, do an enquiry and probably little else but in July 2016 the way alcohol is sold in airports is to be examined after a number of recent incidents involving drunk passengers, the new aviation minister has said.
Lord Ahmad said he did not want to “kill merriment”, but that he would “look at” the times alcohol was on sale, and passenger screening. This seems a measured response but an unsurprising one. Aside from the health issues and general societal ones there are other reasons to be concerned over airport drinking. The number of passenger disturbances on UK flights has tripled over the past three years.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says the “majority” of cases were down to alcohol.
There were 114 incidents in 2014 compared to 39 in 2011. Little surprise here when one looks at the disinhibitive properties of alcohol and the potential amount consumed in a relatively short period of time.
What should airports do? Frankly they should do something instead of encouraging for their own purposes passengers to spend huge amounts of money in the duty-free areas ( that are now obligatory to walk through after security) and the bars that widely decorate airports. I would not especially single out Edinburgh airport of course but this is where I am writing this missive, but bars are often appearing at an exponential rate. I see no equivalent rise in quiet spaces to sit not in fact anywhere to sit. An All-Bar-One has opened here since I last visited. But they should do something, or at least discuss the situation and their relevance to the problem.
The chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, Nathan Stower, said “airlines set tough rules around the consumption of alcohol. Pubs, bars and restaurants in airports in the UK and overseas must play their part”.
In November a flight to Cuba from Manchester had to divert to Bermuda after Mohammed Khelya drank a bottle of vodka and threatened to kill everyone onboard. An isolated event of course but an increasingly seen one.