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Travel and You

Drinking Age Problems

January 17, 1988|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

How easy is it for underage youths to obtain alcoholic drinks at hotels, aboard cruise ships and on planes?

Cruise passengers and guests can often just sign their cabin/room numbers to drink orders. Room service may also be available. Hotels may have mini-bars, where payment takes place at check-out. And airlines routinely offer or sell alcoholic beverages.

However, hotels have to obey state laws, as do cruise ships in ports and airlines on intrastate flight.

"No one under 21 in California can legally be served liquor," says Richard Cottingham, deputy division chief of the Alcohol Beverage Control of Southern California.

Good Judgment

On flights that go beyond California borders, 21 is the general age that domestic airlines use as the cutoff point. But the age is up to the airline as long as the passenger isn't intoxicated or dangerous, says an FAA spokeswoman.

"No FAA regulation covers the serving of alcoholic beverages, and we don't know of any government regulatory agency governing this subject. However, it would be up to the airline to observe good judgment," the spokeswoman said.

Internationally, it's up to the airline to determine what age passengers must be to receive alcoholic beverages, according to an International Transport Assn. spokesman.

On the high seas, standard age for being served alcoholic beverages is 18. Princess and Sitmar cruises serve alcoholic beverages to passengers who are 18 or older. Other lines with the same policy include Carnival, Cunard, Holland America, Home and Norwegian Caribbean.

Frequently, the issue comes down to a judgment call by the beverage server or order taker. "We have a system of controls that makes chances of underage passengers getting an alcoholic drink slim," says Bruce Krumrine, director of passenger programs for Sitmar.

Shipboard ID Cards

Krumrine adds that Sitmar issues color-coded identity cards, listing a person's age, to all teen-age passengers 12 to 18.

"We control access to public rooms where alcoholic beverages are served. Passengers who don't look old enough to be in a lounge may be asked to leave. If they ask for a drink, the bartender or steward may ask to see their shipboard ID card," Krumrine says.

In addition, Krumrine says Sitmar has a roving staff on the lookout for errant juvenile passengers. However, he concedes that checking ages is up to shipboard staff.

"This can be a problem, as many 15- or 16-year-old teen-agers easily look 18 or older. The system falls short in another area. We also have situations in which underage passengers manage to buy liquor in ports of call and then bring it aboard ship."

Passengers can easily obtain soft drinks and ice for mixing alcoholic drinks in their cabins. "Parents, of course, have a responsibility in this matter," Krumrine says. "We can't patrol inside the cabins."

Ages on the Computer

Princess Cruises says bartenders and stewards also must use judgment in assessing the ages of passengers ordering drinks. "Our staff can simply call the purser's office and get the age of a passenger," a spokesman says. "All this information is computerized and easily accessible."

Being asked to wait while their age is being checked may be a deterrent to some teen-agers. However, waiters or stewards often see themselves as too busy to take the time.

"If we discover a staff member serving drinks to minors, it's reason for termination," Krumrine says.

Hotels also are keenly aware of the alcohol situation. Hyatt has a national alcohol management program in which certain employees take an initial course and then monthly updates.

"Our staffs are trained to look for and recognize signs of intoxication," says Linda O'Toole, general manager of the Hyatt-Los Angeles Airport.

However, it still amounts to a judgment call by room service. In such cases, O'Toole says, drinks are prepared and brought to the door, but if there is any question as to the age of the guests, hotel personnel are supposed to ask for identification.

The same policy extends to the pool and other hotel areas where drinks can be ordered.

Settling the Question

While hotels often issue identification cards permitting guests to sign for meals, drinks and other services by room number, such cards are likely to stay in the possession of adults, not their children.

"Our beverage servers are instructed to ask for IDs if they have any questions about a person's age," says Dennis Koci, vice president of office operations and systems for Hilton hotels.

"If there's still a question, they ask for a second piece of identification. And if there's still a question, these persons simply won't be served."

Moreover, Koci adds, "Our beverage servers are very well drilled on their personal as well as company liability in this matter, and they understand their responsibility if underage guests are served liquor, then harm themselves or others."

The growing presence of mini-bars in hotel rooms, some containing liquor when allowed by local law, also present a problem.

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