Australia’s Airport Drinking Culture Is A National Embarrassment

We need better pubs!

Australia’s airport pubs are too bright. It’s also kind of ~cringe~ that they all try so hard to look like cafes. Why can’t we just be honest with ourselves and have a grimy old-fashioned pub in the airport? Is that too much to ask? Oh and drinks are too expensive, so people purchase spirits in Duty-Free instead, and end up getting smashed onboard their flights…


Australia has dwindling durry huffing rates and a skyrocketing consumption of Kale. But many of us still froth over an early morning airport beer – as DMARGE noticed on a recent domestic flight.

Before the aforementioned Monday morning (Ballina to Sydney) flight, we saw various passengers getting their drink on, some of them in work clothes, at 8am on a Monday. And they weren’t even on lads’ trips or Stag Dos.

Airport pap shots by DMARGE.

At the risk of sounding shrill and self-righteous, we were a bit taken aback. Not that it’s any of our business what anyone else consumes, but after spending a couple of months talking about Dry July and (for some DMARGE correspondents) swearing off alcohol in the pursuit of better health, we found our sheltered bubble rudely punctured by the arrival of 3 ice cold Tooheys.

Impressive, yes. Irresponsible, perhaps. Kingly – possibly. Or maybe he was just about to head off on holiday. Who are we to say? Who are we to judge? But it was also a reminder to us that many Aussies love an early morning airport tipple, despite the fact that they would never otherwise drink alcohol so early in the day (ourselves included). For some, it’s even a tradition.

Australians aren’t alone in this. It’s a worldwide phenomenon – the airport has a reputation as a nether zone where ‘socially acceptable’ drinking times don’t apply. You’re not an alcoholic, you’re just mysterious. You’re not losing the plot, you’re just finding yourself. You’re not a group of anti-social morons – you’re a loveable group of friends excited to be going on holiday.

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The airport is a place where you can order a Heineken at 6am and no one will care, shots at 12pm and the bartender will happily ask “what’s the occasion?” and a gin and tonic at 10pm and the staff will wish you luck on your journey.

As one (possibly drunk) Twitter user put it recently: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: airport beer is absolutely superior.” Other expressions include: “This 7am airport beer hits different” and “beer in the airport…. Obviously.”

Further honourable mentions include: “Airport tradition, beer before flight” and “I thought I had better get one in before boarding” and “in my element… aka at the airport drinking a beer.” And that’s all just the fruits of a 10-second Twitter search.

Whether you think this is just fun and games – and that society could do with a few more of these ‘give yourself a break’ zones – or whether you think this is the glamorisation of a dangerous and addictive drug is up to you. What’s not up for debate, I think, is that Australia’s airport drinking culture is a bit embarrassing.

How so? If you’re going to celebrate the consumption of a not-all-that-great-for-you substance, and even go so far as to have a tradition around it, you may as well do it properly.

On that front, I’m sorry to say, but compared to England, Malta and Spain, which I visited recently, Australian airports have been a bit of a let down for drinking. Though we’ve got the fancy (and expensive) Peroni bar at Sydney International (and, from memory, one pub, and about a million Hungry Jacks at our domestic terminal), we are a bit lacking in the kind of manipulative (oh, you didn’t want a drink at the main terminal, but how about here?) airport drinking options that you get overseas.

Compare that to Heathrow, where there was a pub doing a roaring trade in cooked breakfasts and beer when I arrived at 11am, and a cafe selling beer at my gate. Or Seville where, despite the prices being inflated, you could get a Bocadillo de Tortilla and a cold Cruzcampo in the airport bar (and chase it up with another at one of the many kiosks dotted all over the place), or Malta, where there was a Hard Rock Cafe.

Left: Sydney’s brightly lit Heineken House (source: Tripadvisor). Right: stock image of two beer drinkers lying on floor (source: Alamy).

For a nation that prides itself on day drinking, it’s really not good enough. Oh, and while I’m on a roll: why do all our pubs try to make themselves look like cafes? I get that we have much better natural light here than you get in Heathrow, but come on: give the 8am beer drinkers some privacy (looking at you, Heineken House, Sydney…).

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Another argument in favour of having more (and better) pubs and restaurants (with less extortionate prices) in Australian airports is that it might reduce the number of people buying bottles of vodka, mixing it with Garorade and getting sloshed on their flights (as I have experienced during a trip to Bali).

The counter argument to all this is to say I’m being a snob and that I’m falling into the trap of assuming certain things are classier or better just because they’re European (something we’re as guilty of doing with beaches as we are with alcohol) – a myth which has been busted many a time…

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In any case, if you’re going to enjoy a drink at the airport, you may as well do it in style, I reckon. And we can’t be blamed if the infrastructure around us makes us look like alcoholics (early morning airport drinking is just as rampant overseas, I think, it just is better hidden by the facade of a pub). We need better pubs! Or perhaps we could just bring back the free gin tasting at Sydney International…

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