The bar near my departure gate was packed. A group of men, probably a stag party, were getting stuck in to some serious boozing, with pints lined up in front of them.
Thankfully, they weren’t on my flight because they became increasingly raucous over the course of an hour. Hardly surprising, given the amount of lager they were putting away. As we boarded, other passengers expressed their relief that the group had stayed in the bar as our flight was called.
But I have been on flights with drunks aboard, and it’s no laughing matter for either the other passengers or the crew. On one occasion, the captain had to leave the cockpit and tell a group in no uncertain terms to quieten down.
I’ve seen passengers already nervous about flying reduced to tears by rowdiness around them, and even somebody on the verge of a suffering a panic attack because of it. It isn’t like encountering shouting drunks in a pub, and deciding to go elsewhere. There is nowhere to go at 30,000ft.
So last week’s announcement of a review of airport licensing laws by the Government was welcome and long overdue. There is only one possible conclusion it should reach – ban early-morning drinking.
It’s completely unacceptable that airline staff and their passengers should have to cope with the consequences of excessive drinking before take-off. It has long been a money-spinner for airports which then wave drunks goodbye without another thought for the mayhem they can potentially cause.
And it’s getting progressively worse. There has been an increase of more than 70 per cent in the number of arrests for drunken behaviour either on flights or at airports.
A summer never goes by without a flight having to be diverted, or make an unscheduled landing as a result. The court cases that follow always make for disturbing reading, usually involving loutishness and aggression, sometimes even violence that in the cramped confines of an aircraft is terrifying. Little wonder that the airlines have called for a crackdown.
The ritual of drinking at the airport has become a part of the holiday for too many people. There is really no surprise that it can result in air rage, because most of the people knocking back booze surely cannot be used to alcohol early in the morning and its hits them harder as a consequence.
Keeping the bars shut until lunchtime would inconvenience nobody. Holidaymakers can booze all they like once they reach their destination, but while they’re waiting to get on board, it really is no hardship to make do with soft drinks.
We have a problem of an ingrained drinking culture in this country anyway, and pandering to it with airport bars open at unearthly hours does nobody any favours.
If there was a failing in the Government’s announced review, it is that it didn’t go far enough. Why stop at airports?
Much better to announce a wide-ranging look at licensing hours across all public transport. Recently, I suffered a nightmarish rail journey from Leeds caused, for once, not by overcrowding and delays, but by a group of drunks who spent the entire time shouting and swearing. This at 10am. Again, who would want a drink at that time?
They had staggered out of a bar in the station, and I groaned inwardly as they got into my carriage. The train was full, and if I’d left my reserved seat to get away from them, it was unlikely I’d find another.
Even though drunks on a train are not as intimidating – or potentially dangerous – as on a plane, it is still an unnerving experience.
All-day licensing might have been good for the pub trade in general, but it hasn’t done any favours for transport, where passengers have no choice over enforced proximity to people who have had too much to drink.
There’s no good reason for bars in stations to be serving alcohol early in the morning. Earlier this year, British Transport Police published figures that showed an increase in trouble on trains as a result of drink.
This is a trend that cannot be allowed to continue. It’s obvious that there is a category of traveller incapable of behaving responsibly and with consideration for others after drinking, and bars serving beer at hours when most normal people only want tea or coffee are fuelling problems.
There will be those who chunter about the nanny state if a crackdown comes on early-morning drinking at airports, or if the Government has the guts to extend it to railway stations as well. Let them. For the rest of us, who want to enjoy our journeys safely and in peace, it cannot come soon enough.