American Airlines CEO Says More Passengers Are Bringing Their Own Alcohol On Planes

At an American Airlines employee question and answer session mid-month, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, a flight attendant asked CEO Doug Parker about unruly passengers and blamed alcohol – not the alcohol on planes, because American hasn’t been serving alcohol in coach, but the alcohol that passengers have been bringing onto the aircraft themselves.

And the crewmember suggested that American’s move to have just a single agent at each gate to board aircraft makes it tougher to notice and do something about these passengers who are breaking the law and causing incidents inflight before they get onto the plane.

Because of the airline’s alcohol ban which is tied to the controversial mask requirement, American has “more customers bringing on alcohol than they should have” according to Parker. He adds, “Intoxicated passengers nothing has changed..they’re not allowed on the airplane, they’re a safety risk…no one should be on the airplane that’s intoxicated.”

He explains the zero tolerance policy for passengers consuming their own alcohol on board,

As to people bringing their own alcohol on, that’s not just our policy that’s an FAR. That’s a federal regulation. Customers are not allowed to bring their own alcohol on the aircraft. If you see a passenger on the airplane with their own alcohol.

I’ll defer to the people that know this better than me, but what I’ve been told is what you are to do is to confiscate the alcohol. And depending on how intoxicated they are deal with that as well. But the alcohol needs to be confiscated. You can choose whether you give it back to them at the end of the flight. But we confiscate alcohol when we see it. People can’t bring their own alcohol on airplanes…that cannot be tolerated.

Parker acknowledges that the airline’s decision not to serve booze in the back of the plane is causing this, explaining “I’m sure there’s more of it than there has been because customers understand they can’t get a drink on board. So that’s a new phenomenon as well and we can’t let it happen. Please take it away from them as soon as you see it.”

Brady Byrnes, American’s executive in charge of inflight, says “we have absolutely seen an uptick on this” but he’s baffled by it because passengers have limited amounts of liquid they can bring through checkpoints. So “people must be consuming it in the restaurants” and getting it to go. I once sat next to a woman who got a ‘to go cup’ of wine from the Admirals Club before our flight. She wound up in a heated argument with the flight attendant over it, not wanting to give it up even though she’d be given a new glass in first class once we were airborne.

Byrnes argues “it’s better to deal with it on the ground, which is why collaboration with that agent is key” but defends staffing gates with just one agent because technology,

Regarding the number of agents what most folks don’t know is that we were already at single agent boarding on any flight that had 70% or less load factor. What we’ve done is because of the summer and just new technologies that the company has invested in, we’ve increased that from 70 to 80%. Any flight that has 80% or higher load factors you will automatically see two agents. The good thing – first world problems – is almost all of our flights are well north of 80%. so you should most likely in most instances see two agents.

Byrnes acts as though single agent boarding at 70% load factors was a long-standing practice. It wasn’t. It was new last year during the pandemic. Indeed, it’s new enough that airline CFO Derek Kerr is just now touting the efficiency to investors.

Flights that are less than 80% full get just a single agent now, and that means the agent needs to assist customers with seat changes, clear upgrades and standbys, and board the plane – all while evaluating each passenger on board to see whether they’ve been drinking or are affected by some other substance. As the flight attendant asking the question realized, something has to give in that equation. And the gate agent will get called in if they take their time and delay the flight as a result.

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. Jumping to conclusions saying alcohol is the cause of most of these incidents. From what I’ve read, it seems mental health issues are the more likely cause.

  2. The TSA allows for passengers to bring an unlimited amount of mini bottles. They do have to be in a zip lock back though. Once though security one can use their own container.

    Change the policy the way the flight attendant obviously is suggesting! Serve your own alcohol so you can actually monitoring.

  4. Why do Biz/ First class flyers get served alcohol? They can’t become drunk or obnoxious?

  5. There is no “FAR” (aka 14 CFR) that prohibits bringing alcohol on board. You may not _consume_ it unless served by a crew member (14 CFR § 121.525), which basically means they won’t serve you as a matter of policy to promote sales. Once revenue overrides safety and everything else, well … that’s how we got where we were in 2019.
    Now that alcohol is completely unavailable on certain carriers, who is surprised at the outcome given how prohibition worked out?

  6. Easy answer to this problem. Start serving alcohol in coach again! You are separating class society. Remember the titanic.

  7. The airline management really brings on their own problems. Start serving alcohol! Its a sedative. I’m surprised Parker is encouraging FA’s to confescate the alcohol. That is an adverse confrontational move that could result in an escalated adverse outcome especially as nerves are frayed. It screams confrontation. They should also get a doc in a box to give pax 10mg of Valium. 🙂 Parker does not have to be the person involved in the escallated 1 on 1 confrontation so I suppose that is why he advocates for it just sitting in his air conditioned space just watching and having to react after something happens.

  8. 1. Why does coach not get alcohol but 1st does? They are not any better than anyone else. If you make rules like this for coach, 1st has to follow them as well. Otherwise, this is just classist!

    2. If you have flown American within the last…at least 5 years, you know how awful the airline has become. My last 2 trips with them were a total nightmare. Rude gate agents, rolling delays, lost baggage, website for baggage return does not work, they got rid of the baggage customer service line, carry-on baggage problems, packed in like sardines during a pandemic….I could go on and on. If I ever have to fly them again, I will NEED alcohol just to relax and not let this worthless airline get me all worked up or an edible lol the edible would probably work for calming me a lot better lol

    3. We have bailed American out more than once, I say we let capitalism take them out. I mean they love that system so much for the rest of us but want socialism for them. Nah, screw them, let them fall. Clearly, if your business fails you did not have a good enough business to survive. Not my problem. Stop bailing them out with our taxes dollars. They just turn around and treat passengers like cattle and we tax payers do not get anything from them except their presence for bailing them out. Ppfftt I would be happy to see them go bankrupt.

  9. @Darla: Doug Parker, American Airlines CEO, said, “Customers are not allowed to bring their own alcohol on the aircraft….but what I’ve been told is what you are to do is to confiscate the alcohol…the alcohol needs to be confiscated. You can choose whether you give it back to them at the end of the flight.”

    If I understand what CEO Parker is saying, his statement gives the flight crew the latitude to keep the confiscated passenger alcohol. I was surprised to learn that CEO Parker gave flight crews the option to keep all the confiscated alcohol. I agree you can’t open duty-free alcohol on a flight.

    Where there is a (rare) two-night layover, is a flight crew prohibited from relaxing the first night and, enjoy a party as long as the crew is fit for duty when they return to service after a two-night layover? I believe most crew members drink responsibly. However, I have read multiple articles from Gary Leff regarding crew members who returned to work while over the intoxication limit.

    As a frequent flying dork, I still have confidence in the excellent safety record of American Airlines and their flight crews.

  10. Maybe they should have thought of that before being discriminatory by nanny alcohol in Coach while serving it in First and Business Class.

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