An airport departure lounge is an exciting place - you sit there for a while, and wait, then get into a huge metal tube and fly - fly! - at hundreds of miles an hour to a different country.
The aggressive non-glamour of Easyjet and Ryanair and their absolute contempt for their passengers can easily make you forget how miraculous it is. Humanity dreamed for thousand of years of taking to the skies, and thanks to the Wright brothers, we can do it now, and do it casually, unthinkingly.
In just a few hours, you can make a journey that was either impossible or unthinkable before, a journey groups of people would set off on knowing they wouldn’t all make it due to time/wolves/sickness/monsters/Krakens. But now we just swan on for £39.99 and bugger off somewhere amazing. Surely that’s worth raising a glass to.
And raising a glass to it is, with airport pubs open round the clock, providing imminent travelers with delicious 5.0% abv sustenance whenever their flight times and thirsts demand. However, this might soon be coming to an end, with the Home Office launching a country-wide review of licensing laws at airport pubs. Downing a few looseners before the 8:15 to Ljubljana might become a thing of the past.
And that would be unacceptable.
As with so many things, if this happens it’ll be the result of a few unpleasant people ruining it for everyone: there has been a dramatic rise in airport arrests of drunk people acting the giddy goat, with a 70% increase between 2016 and 2017.
In 2017, 387 arrests for drunken behaviour were made across Britain’s airports. 73,400,000 passengers fly through Heathrow each year, so even if every single one of those arrests was made in that one airport (unlikely, as there are over 40 commercial airports in the country), that would be 0.0000053% of people misbehaving and ruining the joy of a beery pre-flight brekkie for everyone else.
You idiots. You goddamned idiots. Planes have had to be diverted due to antisocial behaviour (airlines are calling for fines of up to £80,000 in such cases), and anyone being so unpleasant that such a thing is necessary deserves no sympathy whatsoever.
But everyone else, come on. Getting to airports is uniformly horrible. The buildup to a holiday generally balloons into a nightmare, with every element of it causing untold stress. There’s never been a pleasant trip to the airport. Packing for a holiday is regularly cited as one of the most stressful tasks there is, and the sheer amount of things that can go wrong between waking up and getting on the plane is colossal. Traffic jams, Tube issues, enormous queues, forgotten passports, unexpected charges, missing family members, mysterious bits of internal metal leading to invasive cavity searches… it’s a nightmare, especially if you’re flying at the crack of dawn so had to set the alarm for 1:30. Making it through all that, you’re rewarded with ninety minutes to kill in a fairly price-hiked pub chain, and that’s lovely.
Some pubs in airports are honestly really nice (almost as nice as drinking on trains). There’s a man who works in the Stansted Wetherspoons who is an absolute delight. He must get up at quarter past stupid, so possibly has a really horrendous out-of-work life, but he’s completely charming even if you roll up at half-four in the morning and demand a Stella. It’s also a really nice Spoons, with a big pretty fake tree in it. It’s romantic. Start your holiday in style, you know?
For the economically-minded, it’s good for the country to spend at the airport rather than waiting until you get where you’re going, but everything else you can buy at an airport completely sucks.
Ah cool, a three-foot teddy bear dressed as a Beefeater, that’ll be fun to carry in your lap all the way to Sydney! Great, a paperback that for no discernible reason has the same dimensions as a hardback - that’ll be fun to bend the shit out of when forcing it into an already-overstuffed carry-on! Ah cool, a novelty oversized packet of jellybeans that works out to over a quid a bean! If you have a few beers, you’re spending that all-important money on these green and pleasant shores, but leaving with nothing more inconvenient than a slightly heavier bladder.
(Speaking of spending money, call us cynical, but there’s something suspicious about the airlines themselves calling for this crackdown. They claim they have to deal with the consequences of airport drinking, but isn’t one of those consequences, arguably, people having had enough to drink and not wanting to pay £6 for a warm tin of Heineken at 35,000 feet?)
And look, the laws are different in an airport - in normal life, nobody searches for weapons in your shoe, sticks a gloved hand up somewhere you don’t want a gloved hand if you seem dodgy or throws your stuff around before putting it on a big conveyor belt. Toblerones are a sensible size outside airports. WH Smith doesn’t sell pornography outside airports, but for some reason has a fully-stocked top shelf inside them.
If all the rules of how normal life goes are meaningless, why stick to conventions about when it’s appropriate to slip a wee Grolsch down your neck? Time means nothing in the sanitary, purgatorial, glassy world of an airport, the no-man’s-land where you are in neither in one place nor another. Get a bloody round in.
Travelling is an emotional experience. Everything is heightened (pun unintended but wholeheartedly welcomed). People are more likely to cry at films they watch on planes - a staggering 41% of male respondents to a Virgin Atlantic survey said they’d used an airline blanket to hide their tears. When you’re flying you’re likely to be excited, or sad, or scared, or exhausted. Maybe you’ve just said goodbye to loved ones. Maybe you’re heading off on a well-deserved break after a rotten year. Maybe you’re heading to a new job in a place where you don’t know anyone, and are nervous about building a new life. Maybe you hate planes. Either way, when emotions are running high, is there anything wrong with a nice pint? And a smidge of alcohol can reduce your risk of deep-vein thrombosis.
But, and this is the point that the dickheads getting arrested and threatening to ruin things are missing, it’s not about getting drunk, it’s about having a pleasant drink. Nobody wants to board a plane completely shitfaced. That’s no fun at all.
Who wants to be strapped into a seatbelt while hammered? You can’t smoke on planes, you can’t go for a walk in the fresh air to clear your head, you can’t go home, you can’t go to a club, it’s awful.
“I nearly wasn’t allowed on a flight once,” says Roger, an enthusiastic airport drinker and cheerful walking disaster. “This would have caused innumerable problems for everybody involved. Luckily, a friendly Spanish lady insisted on feeding my friend and I Doritos in the queue to try and sober us up. Also my friend lost his passport. Don’t get drunk in airports, especially if you’re the pilot.”
But ultimately, what it all comes down to is that you’re on holiday, goddamn it. Relax. We’re all so caught up in life, in work, that we don’t relax enough.
A third of British workers end up working more days than they’re actually paid for by not taking their full allotted holidays. If you’re actually allowing yourself to take your nose from the grindstone and have some leisure time, going somewhere interesting and living rather than simply working then waiting until it’s time to work again, you’ve earned the right to kick your metaphorical feet up early and have a Guinness with your damn breakfast.