Airline Liquor Rules Vary by State

New Mexico could become second to require server training of flight attendants

Rules: N.M. airline liquor license costs $1,250 each year

From Maine to California, most states require airlines that serve alcohol to hold a state license.

Only Alaska, however, specifically requires flight attendants to undergo alcohol-server training. New Mexico will become the second if officials follow through on recent statements by the state's top liquor regulator.

A survey of laws in the 50 states found all but 13 require airlines to apply for something similar to New Mexico's public-service liquor license for transportation companies.

Bill Roche, enforcement supervisor for the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said his state added the requirement that airline personnel undergo alcohol server training in 1993.

Airlines using Alaska airports must report to state officials the form and substance of the training they give their flight personnel, Roche said.

The superintendent of New Mexico's Regulation and Licensing Department, Edward Lopez, said last month that the state hasn't required flight attendants to complete state-certified training. But he said that policy is about to change.

The issue arose after a Nov. 11 highway crash involving Dana Papst of Tesuque, who police say was drunk when he drove the wrong way on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe and killed five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family. Hours earlier, US Airways personnel had served Papst two individual-size bottles of whiskey, although witnesses said Papst appeared intoxicated. After Papst got off the plane at Albuquerque International Sunport, investigators said, he stopped at a Bernalillo convenience store and bought a six-pack of beer on his way to Santa Fe.

After a review of airline licenses, the state Regulation and Licensing Department sent cease-and-desist letters to three airlines, including US Airways, that were serving liquor on New Mexico flights but lacked a state license.

Roland Herwig, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said the federal government doesn't regulate the serving of alcohol. That is a matter left to state governments.

Michael Browde, constitutional law professor at The University of New Mexico School of Law, said states are in charge of liquor regulations because the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed Prohibition, assigns alcohol regulation to the states.

Matt Cook, director of the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division and a vice president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, said the reason most states require airlines to have a liquor license is because of the authority specified under the 21st Amendment. That includes the right to control liquor transportation, importation, temperance and taxation, he said.

R.J. O'Hara, a Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in multistate licensing coordination for the National Association of Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Attorneys, said most states require airlines to hold liquor licenses because they buy and store liquor on the ground.

The definition of storing liquor includes having it aboard a plane while it is on the ground, O'Hara said.

Lopez said one reason for New Mexico's licensing requirement is to keep the public safer by requiring airlines to know the state's liquor laws, including the prohibition against selling liquor to people who are visibly intoxicated.

But enforcement efforts apparently haven't been vigorous. Lopez acknowledged that until the Papst crash, his department had not reviewed whether airlines that operated in New Mexico actually held a liquor license. And, until the recent cease-and-desist letters, he said, the state of New Mexico hadn't cited any airline with a liquor-law infraction.

From those airlines that did have a state license, New Mexico collected a fee of $1,250 a year.

Such fees vary by state. California requires an original fee of $100 for an airline liquor license and $442 a year for every year thereafter. New York's liquor license for airlines costs $3,930 for a two-year license. An airline liquor license in Texas costs $2,339 a year.

Most of the states that don't require airlines to hold a liquor license are relatively small in population, such as North Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont. The reasons vary.

Bill Goggins, chief of liquor enforcement for the Vermont Department of Liquor Control, said the Vermont Legislature simply has never addressed the issue. The state requires licenses to sell liquor on trains and boats, he said, but not airplanes.

Eric Honma, director of the Hawaii Liquor Control Commission, said he is not certain why Hawaii doesn't require airlines to hold a state liquor license, but he believes it's because the state does not have jurisdiction over airspace three miles outside the Hawaii islands.

He said that's the reason the state does not require boats to have a state liquor license.

In Wisconsin, the legislature carved out a special liquor-license exception for transportation businesses, said Lauren Jackson, a legislative analyst with the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. As long as liquor is served to passengers while they are in transit, the law says, companies don't need a license for service on planes and trains.

Although New Mexico doesn't yet apply its alcoholic-beverage server training rules to flight attendants, New Mexico is one of 14 states that has a mandatory program for servers and sellers, according to the Alcohol Policy Information System, a division of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism based in Bethesda, Md.

Of those 14 states, only nine, including New Mexico, require airlines to get a liquor license. Only Alaska specifically requires flight attendants to receive alcohol-server training.

But other states also are considering adopting the practice.

Dan Adams, assistant director of the Maryland Board of Liquor Control, said officials in that state's Comptroller's Office are talking about trying to change a law that exempts airline personnel from alcohol-awareness-training requirements.

Almost all alcohol retailers in Maryland must have at least one person who has undergone such training, Adams said, but operators of boats, trains and planes are exempt.

A US Airways spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the airline's alcohol training practices. But Jeff Kovick, a spokesman for United Airlines, said that airline gives flight attendants extensive training, including how to deal with passengers who shouldn't have any more to drink.

Kovick said it would be premature for the airline to comment on New Mexico's plan to certify alcohol-server training programs for flight attendants.

Gary Roberson, government relations manager for Training Intervention Procedures, a Virginia-based company that conducts alcohol-server training programs worldwide, said Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines require their flight attendants to undergo training by his company.

Elizabeth Findling, who teaches alcohol-certification classes in Santa Fe, said she gives servers advice on how to cut off a customer.

"I just tell them to blame it on a higher authority," Findling said. That higher authority, she said, can include the law and/or the boss.

"I think they'd be a great idea for flight attendants," Findling said of the classes. "I would recommend them for anyone who is involved with alcohol and drinking and driving."

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