Should Airlines Stop Serving Alcohol?

I wonder whether it’s a good idea for people to be served alcohol when they’re stuck in a metal tube.

A drunk Russian just wound up tied up after he was dragged off a plane “shouting and screaming” when he wouldn’t take his seat.

I’m starting to wonder, why do airlines serve alcohol onboard at all?

Lessons from the Mideast

Of course not all airlines serve alcohol. The ones that don’t usually abstain because they’re based in a country where it’s frowned upon, or illegal. EgyptAir, Saudia, and Kuwait Airways are dry airlines for instance. But more cosmopolitan Mideast carriers like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar serve some of the world’s best alcohol.

The nation of Qatar’s laws are in part based on Sharia law, and contain provisions for flogging of Muslims who consumer alcohol. And yet here’s the business class bar on Qatar’s Airbus A380:

Alcohol and Flying Often Do Not Mix

To be sure most flights have no issue with alcohol at all. But it sure seems as though onboard alcohol-related incidents are reaching epidemic proportions. And the diversions they cause are costly to airlines and passengers alike.

Flight attendants had to take down a drunk passenger using an ice pick and a pot of coffee.

What this man did isn’t even safe for work. And then there’s Blac Chyna

And that’s just a sampling of recent incidents.

Should More Airlines Be Dry Airlines?

Most people know that it’s a bad idea to bring your own onboard. (That’s a lesson my seatmate on a short Dallas – Austin flight learned.)

But do you need the airline to serve you alcohol? Or would you rather they didn’t, give the admittedly small risk that some passenger who gets served could drink too much and lose their cool — causing you to take much longer to reach your destination, and possibly misconnect in the process?

Do you book away from dry airlines? Would you go out of your way to buy tickets from airlines that still serve alcohol, if your regular airline stopped?

US Airways never wanted to install inflight internet but realized they were losing ticket purchases because they didn’t have it. So in 2012 they made the investment.

Is alcohol like inflight internet, a must-have for enough passengers that airlines would lose money without it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes,continue to serve alcohol but airlines should refuse to allow anybody to board the plane already VERY visibly intoxicated,forfeiting their airfare with no refunds.
    Too many airlines letting on drunken football supporters/stag/hen parties to the detriment of other passengers/flight crew.

  2. What’s the point of flying without alcohol? Just flag anybody who causes trouble and put on a “do not serve” list forever. I agree that they often overserve, especially in business, but so far we have never had a problem ourselves or with other passengers.

  3. As far as I am concerned an alcohol ban would be like smoking ban. A lot of people use these products outside, many want them in the flight as well, but larger good would justify the ban.

  4. Please don’t ask us all to give up a personal choice because a small number of passengers don’t know how to handle alcohol.

    Lately when I fly I open my laptop and get billable work done, often using go-go wifi, and in that mode alcohol has no place (my choice). But sometimes I just want to “chill,” and a movie with a drink or two makes the time pass nicely. (And I rarely rent cars. When I do rent, alcohol is not on the agenda.)

  5. AKTCHI: I think it’s a mistake to put smoking in the same category as alcohol. Smoking is well documented to be bad for the health of everyone breathing second hand smoke (does anyone still dispute this?), and then there’s the fire hazard risk.

  6. Seems to me a better first step would be for all airlines to share names of these idiots and ban them from flying for life. Problem would be solved pretty fast.

  7. Yeah I agree, cut off the idiots before they get out of control and hand me another G&T please!

  8. I would go out of my way to buy tickets from airlines that still serve alcohol (except perhaps in short flights lasting less than a couple of hours).

    I do not always drink on a flight, but I want to make sure I have this option if I feel like it.

  9. This former flight attendant has been saying for years that alcohol needs to be banned from all commercial airline flights. In addition, it needs to be banned from being served at the airport as well. If people absolutely need to have an intoxicant in flight, then let them vape marijuana – it would make for a much happier flight for all.

  10. I do not care because I do not drink but behavior might actually degrade even more if you “deprived” people of their basic right to drink alcohol.

    As long as they do not infringe on my right to a uneventful flight because of drunken behavior, relieving themselves (voluntarily or not) or constantly going back and forth to the bathroom and disrupting my peace in the process, I have no opinion about it.

  11. I would prefer dry flights but for cost reasons, not because people can’t hold their liquor.

    I personally rarely drink on planes, even in international F, so I’d be better off if alcohol were excluded from the cost of my ticket. This pretty much means going dry, since few carriers would want to charge premium pax for alcohol.

  12. Gary, I have to say, while I understand the idea of promoting (provoking?) discussion, this is one *stupid* idea.

    Having spent 40+ years in the wine trade, I am familiar with many alcohol-related laws across the US, and (albeit to a lesser extent) overseas. In almost every jurisdiction, and throughout the US, it is *illegal* to serve someone who is intoxicated. And while no one wants (or is even suggesting) to turn aircrews into law enforcement officers, they, too, must obey the law — in other words, it’s just as illegal for a bartender or cocktail waitress to serve someone who is intoxicated as it is for a flight attendant to do so. The law makes no distinction: if the person is responsible for serving alcoholic beverages, they are also responsible for NOT serving them.

    I have never been on a flight — domestic or overseas — where there was a problem with a passenger who consumed too much. I am not suggesting it never happens; of course it does, and you have cited several examples, but it’s never happened during a flight upon which I was on board. (I’ve never been in a plane crash, or experienced an emergency landing, either, though these too happen.) I have several friends who are flight attendants, each with 20+ years experience. I’ve heard the horror stories, but few have had anything to do with alcohol.

    Like most people who fly, there are times when I will have a drink onboard a flight, and far more times when I do not. Generally speaking, I’ll have wine with my meal on a trans-oceanic flight, and possibly a Cognac before I go to sleep (when on an overnight flight to London, say, in Business or First Class).

    You asked “Do you book away from dry airlines?” The only airlines I know which are dry all fly out of the Middle East, and I would not book flights on those airlines, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they don’t service my home airports. So, for me, it’s a non-issue.

    But have you thought about why airlines do feel alcohol? Profit! Wine, liquor, and/or beer on most flights now costs between $7-8 per drink. The percentage profit is HUGE! Even when it’s given away in First Class . . . even when it’s Dom Pérignon or Krug Grande Cuvée . . . the customer is in fact paying for it! Those seats aren’t $$$$ for nothing!

  13. A couple more examples of dry flights for you.

    Serving/drinking alcohol is banned by law on domestic flights within India.

    And the AirAsia airlines flying regional routes (AK, FD, QZ, I5, Z2) don’t serve alcohol. AirAsia X does.

  14. Being a depressant, small or moderate amounts of alcohol, which are consumed by the overwhelming majority of drinkers, helps to relieve tension and foster relaxation. If airlines stop serving alcohol, they will probably come up with a drug that will stupefy passengers so they will be oblivious to the overcrowding and bad service.

  15. Should women be allowed to wear sexy clothes because guys can’t really control themselves. Bring back the burqa NOW. and I have a spot reserved for you at the mosque.

  16. I’m not in favor of restricting people from things that don’t bother others… That said, it’s repulsive to me to smell drunk people at ten am, which I often experience when flying. I don’t know why people drink so much and so early, but I am not much of a drinker myself, so I am a unique case. I think the airlines should definitely police drunk people. Of the thousands of flights I have taken, I haven’t ever seen a disruptive drunk person, for what it’s worth.

  17. More people are killed by drunk drivers every day than all of your stupid click bait articles combined. If you wanna tell people how to live their lives, alcohol should be outlawed period.

  18. Here in British Columbia we have a program called Serving It Right, which all alcohol service employees must pass, which trains employees on how much to serve, units of alcohol, the signs of intoxication, etc.

    Having flight attendants trained and certified in a similar way would help massively.

  19. Gary – Today I went on FlightAware to track a flight out of Dublin over the Atlantic. I discovered that FlightAware has a feature which shows all the flights in the region. Out of the 200+ flights that I saw in that one moment in time there were <0.1 alcohol incidents per flight. At the end of the day I don't think we (or the airlines) can let one bad apple ruin it for everyone else.

  20. Here we go again, the first inklings of “let’s not serve alcohol to anyone” because one dickhead can’t handle his booze. Why do Americans do this? This need to tell us what to do all the time, us, who are responsible adults and can make our own decisions and be accountable for our own actions. The cabin waiters have total discretion to serve or not to serve alcohol. Done. So bugger off with your controls and your American regulations and your American need to be telling us all what we can and can’t do. I’m sick of it .

  21. Banning alcohol on all flights because a small fraction of people can’t control themselves is just absurd and an over reaction. Deny boarding to heavily intoxicated people and cut them off from being served more. It gets tiring in this country where the answer many people put forth is to take choices away from everyone because of the actions of very very few people. I usually only drink in premium cabins and even then only in moderation and only because its free.

  22. Hey Gary, thanks for the conversation! Unfortunate that a few of us over-reacted in our comments. You usually host a polite group.

    The one alcohol-related incident I have experienced in 40 years was in biz class NWA 747 on a flight from Narita back to Minneapolis. My affable, but dog-tired seat neighbor said he had left work somewhere in northern Thailand, with no sleep for 24 hours, as he drank a couple of preflight bubblies. He then, apparently, popped a sleeping pill.

    I staved off a return to base when one of the flight attendants asked me an hour after takeoff, with a very worried look, whether I thought my neighbor needed medical attention. She said that he had been speaking incoherently. I explained what he had told me, she watched him nod off, and tucked him in.

    That was NWA. You can deduce how long ago that was.

  23. Generally, I’m okay with serving drinks on flights. The only exception is those in the Exit seats. These people are promising to help during an emergency. I don’t want my life in their hands if they’ve been drinking.

  24. Have another drink Gary & travelers who need to relax..
    “Although classified as a depressant, the amount of alcohol consumed determines the type of effect. Most people drink for the stimulant effect, such as a beer or glass of wine taken to “loosen up.” But if a person consumes more than the body can handle, they then experience alcohol’s depressant effect.”
    What Is Alcohol? Is Alcohol a Drug? Alcohol Content – Drug-Free World…/alcohol.htmlFoundation for a Drug‑Free World

  25. What I don’t understand is why airlines continue to serve those who are drunk or stop them from getting on a flight if someone is drunk before boarding. My daughter just flew Portland to Atlanta on an am flight seated next to a guy who was obviously drunk. She learned a valuable lesson about not speaking up. She noticed him while waiting to board but didn’t say anything because surely he wasn’t on her flight. Not only was he on her flight but he was seated beside her. He was loud and belligerent u til he passed out and fell across her lap. So, say something, do something would have been a wiser choice.

  26. You say that it “seems as though onboard alcohol-related incidents are reaching epidemic proportions” but is there any data to back up that assertion?

    I suspect the perceived rise in alcohol-related incidents is primarily due to the internet and social media making these non-stories available to a global audience. If I weren’t following your blog, I would never have heard of any of these incidents.

    When a drunk made a scene on a flight twenty years ago, the only people who knew were the other passengers and crew. Nowadays, any time someone so much as farts on a plane it ends up on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, all with real-time updates thanks to in-flight wifi.

  27. Well said Robbo – you sound Australian – the regs here are that the flight crew may not board pax who are intoxicated. Unfortunately the captain is ultimately responsible for lounge staff, gate staff, cabin crew, NOT having the balls to enforce the regs. Irrespective, I have seen QF and VA staff permitting intoxicated pax to board on a regular basis, and then serving more alcoholic drinks in-flight. However, I have yet to see any “danger to safety” scenarios vs very “obnoxious pax” issues. Seat kicking, farting and aggressive seat reclining – and ignoring the safety briefings are much more significant issue. However and as a moderate drinks consumer – and nil before car hire arrivals – I still fear the scenario “we have a pilot incapacitation – is there a pilot on board? ” – Merely to find when I have saved all on board the Airbus/ATR/Boeing/Embraer – that CASA prosecutes me for having a lot of blood in my alcohol!
    (Such is the culture of officially organized stupidity in Australia)

    From the reports I read in this blog, stupidity is organized far more randomly and individually in America – that is, you have the right to be right to be stupid even if it impinges everyone else’s rights.

    Wake up to yourselves – you mob are an international laughing stock!

  28. Yes I say that Alcohol served on Aircraft should be limited to to one drink, as you can bet the boozers have a drink before boarding, why should non drinkers have to be subjected to other peoples bad behavior because they cannot handle their booze, there are children on most flights that have to witness this behavior, plus it could be frightening for anyone when trouble brakes out onboard,
    As punishment I think anyone that hast to be arrested after causing trouble on a Flight should be banned from flying on any airline full stop for a period of 5 years, if they dont like it tough they should think of the consequenses before they fly and go straight on the booze. I do not see why I and others have to be subjected to other peoples bad behavior on what should be a pleasent and safe flight, or remove their Passports, I am in the Aviation Industry, I have done a lot of flying which I enjoy, but when you get the Shell Suit Gangs on board trying to ruin a pleasent flight for everyone else they should be dealt with in a tough way, also I do believe we should have Sky Marshalls on board.

  29. The recent incident of a drunk man groping a woman then urinating openly on a plane noted that he had two double vodkas, and might have had more before he boarded. Where is the wisdom in serving anyone that quantity in a tiny, confined shared space? Even a reasonable person could become unreasonable on that blood alcohol level, and an already unreasonable one completely unmanageable, as happened. The servers need to be counting the drinks and enforcing a cutoff. Safety and sanity should prevail if it’s going to be served. We needn’t look further than domestic abuse and carnage on the highways to see that there are folks who can’t manage their intake. Judgement and self control decrease as levels rise, it’s simple math.

  30. I like a sweet Pina Colada. One or two maybe every six months to a year. I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I never drink alcohol on planes so if they took it away I wouldn’t care. Usually when you bring in alcohol there is trouble. Fighting. It happened at my stepdad’s store. He sold beer and wine. At a restaurant my mom worked for the owner would tell customers if you have more than 2 drinks and don’t get a table and eat you need to go to the bar down the street.

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