Should Airports Tolerate Or Fight Panhandlers And Donation Seekers Inside The Terminal Building?


While visiting Kuala Lumpur Airport last week I became aware of a conversation taking part across from me where a young man approched a couple and was seeking donations for a charity.

The lady who was approached was a local Malaysian and took pictures of his materials the man presented to her as he was unable to produce identification or a license allowing him to be there.

Having this sort of thing going on in train stations and public places is rather common but I’ve seen an increase in panhandlers and donation seekers loitering around airport terminals, approaching passengers to ask for money.

Most likely these people haven’t received special permission from the airport authorities to be around and semi-harass the passengers who frequent the terminal. If this was the case then they would receive some sort of identification pass that they could show upon demand.

In this case the gentleman was asked to show a license or ID and he wasn’t able to produce it.

While some of these causes might be legitimate, people have very little chance to verify that on a moments notice which is why the best choice would be to have proper organizations that want to seek donations go through a proper approval and verification process with the airport authorities.

Such matter might be able to be handled in an ad hoc manner but panhandling in the U.S. has been subject to numerous lawsuits and constitutional challenges by religious organizations.

Back in 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that airports can ban panhandling but not forbid the distribution of literature after the Hare Krishna religious group (sect) worked it’s way through the courts.

You can find a related New York Times article here.

The Supreme Court today upheld the Port Authority’s ban on begging in the terminals of the three New York-area airports, but said the First Amendment gives people the right to hand out pamphlets and other literature there.

The split ruling, the result of shifting voting blocs and rationales within the Court, affirmed in both its aspects a decision last year by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan.

The decision today came in a 17-year-old lawsuit brought against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by members of the Hare Krishna movement, which requires adherents to solicit money and distribute literature as part of their religious mission. The Port Authority tried to ban both activities, beginning in the 1970’s.

In other countries airports are considered private property of the operator and airport management reserves the right to ban anyone they deem to  be disruptive outright.


I don’t like panhandling at places like airports and train stations. It’s adds another layer of harassment to the already charged environment of such facilities where people are on edge after being annoyed by long security and check-in lines.

There are always people outside the terminal at Los Angeles LAX Airport as well (especially TBIT) who ask people for money. This is a very negative first impression of foreign visitors who have other things on their mind than being asked for money right after their arrival.

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