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Airports, Airlines Increase Access to Alcohol


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Sunday, December 5, 2010 — (ABC News: Travel) –


By CHARISSE JONES
USA TODAY



December 5, 2010





It’s getting easier to grab a drink at the airport and in the air.




Some airports now allow liquor to be sold at dawn or around the clock. Passengers can experience happy hour at 30,000 feet. And wine aficionados passing through airports in Philadelphia, New York and Seattle can enjoy a tasting without leaving the terminal.



The ability to enjoy a libation while flying is a long-standing perk. But the increased access and options reflect efforts by some airports to boost revenue, as well as a growing marketing savvy by airlines, which now sell everything from meals to day passes to their premium lounges, travel experts say.



“What’s happening is airlines are becoming better retailers of products,” says Jay Sorensen, a consultant, who says the cocktail push by U.S. airlines began during the last year. “They’re doing things to highlight the fact that, ‘Yes, indeed, we do sell alcohol on the airplane.’ They’re trying to mimic what occurs on the ground in terms of consumer promotions.”



But some union leaders, local officials and frequent fliers fear that the increased access to alcohol raises the risk of more drunken travelers, particularly at a time when many passengers find a travel experience that involves enhanced screening and crowded planes more stressful than ever.



Last month, two AirTran passengers — one flying from Los Angeles International to Atlanta Hartsfield, another headed to Atlanta from New Orleans — weren’t allowed to board because they were intoxicated.



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“It’s too early to know what the effect will be, but making liquor more available to passengers certainly has the potential to create problems for airline workers, both in the terminals and on the aircraft,” Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, says of increased access to alcohol at airports. “Their job is difficult enough without having to manage unruly passengers made worse by too many drinks.”



Among new options for drinking or buying liquor:



Chicago’s city council passed ordinances in July allowing bars at O’Hare and Midway airports to serve customers around the clock.



Portland International’s venues and shops have been able to sell cocktails and bottled alcohol as early as 5 a.m. since July 2009, after the airport received special permission from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for sellers to open earlier.



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