Wednesday 3 August 2016

Drinking in airports

Tariq Ahmad, the (unelected) aviation minister, has decided to take a look at the availability of alcohol in airports. ITV News says there will be a 'crackdown'. Being a Muslim, Ahmad is - I assume - a teetotaller who believes that it is wrong to drink alcohol. That doesn't sound very promising, but he says "I don't think we want to kill merriment altogether" so that's alright then. He only wants to kill it a bit.

On Twitter last week, I expressed the view that per capita alcohol-related disturbances are probably lower in airports than they are in most other public spaces, despite the 24 hour availability.

This was no more than an educated guess. Airports are areas of high security where people can't get away with too much silliness. Even drunks respond to incentives.

At the Guardian today, Sally Adams-Merry of Bath University provides some rough and ready numbers to provide illumination.

A figure doing the rounds in the media states that 442 individuals have been arrested on suspicion of being drunk on a plane or airport between March 2014 and March 2016. This figure was obtained by the Press Association through Freedom of Information requests to the Police . Whilst this sounds high, it needs to be considered in the context of the number of passengers traveling through airports each year and the number of arrests on flights that are not alcohol-related. Unfortunately, obtaining a figure for non-alcohol related arrest proved difficult. However, in terms of all travellers, the UK Aviation Industry reports that more than 251 million individuals passed though UK airports in 2015. If we take this as a typical year, then the 442 passengers arrested on suspicion of being drunk represents approximately 0.00018% of all air travellers.

Alas, she doesn't give us the figures for the general public, but 0.00018% certainly doesn't sound like an epidemic and Sally speaks up for the 99.99982% of us who don't get our collars felt in airports for being pissed up.

An airport-wide ban could see moderate drinkers penalised for the behaviour of a handful of individuals.

Indeed it could. In fact it definitely would. And the same is true of tax hikes, minimum pricing and other 'public health' policies directed at the whole population, but when this is pointed out to the 'public health' racket, we are told that it is an "industry argument". See, for example, this article from Sally's colleagues at Bath University...

The focus on a small number of alcohol misusers provides the AI [alcohol industry] with a frame that has the potential to invalidate the current focus of health policy; the AI argues that population-level approaches, such as taxation or restrictions on advertising, penalizes moderate drinkers because of a ‘few people’ who consume alcohol in an irresponsible way and that these approaches do not tackle alcohol misuse effectively. This supports AI claims that ‘existing regulation is satisfactory’

Does the Guardian realise it is being used as a vehicle for evil industry arguments or does the threat to a nice glass of Sancerre before jetting off to Goa make them valid on this occasion?


As a couple of people of Twitter have pointed out, the maths in the Guardian is wrong (shocking, I know). The 442 arrests were over two years so the annual percentage of arrests is 0.000088%. 

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