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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. I don’t understand why one can’t consume their own alcohol on board. As was said, there is only a “limited amount of liquid” can be brought aboard, certainly not enough to inebriate someone. I agree that intoxicated passengers should not be allowed on the plane, but I think part of the ruling is so that the airlines get more revenue by selling it. However, not everyone who drinks a glass of wine will become drunk and I resent paying $8.00 for a tiny bottle of wine, etc. Passengers are ripped off enough as it is with all the fees.

  2. According to CEO Doug Parker, “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.”

    I have two questions:
    Will American Airlines flight attendants confiscate all alcohol purchased from an airport duty-free or in a foreign country? Is it a mandated flight attendants’ responsibility to decide if the carry-on alcohol in passenger baggage will be returned to the passenger?

  3. @Shirley … Unfortunately, it here is the ‘least common denominator’ principle needing to be applied – if the audience is unfiltered and refuses to take (or to be required to take) an oath, then eliminate the willfulness-triggering perks. Personal watercraft and highways are there as their option.

    The goal is safe travel for everyone on the passenger manifest. Period.

    N.B. A bartender is required to withhold alcohol dispensation to any obviously-inebriated customer. Business liability, and well, responsible oversight. Kind of a universal law, really.

    Hello, parenting?

  4. Doug is wrong. Passengers can bring their own alcohol onboard. They can even drink alcohol they brought onboard. What they can’t do is drink alcohol that wasn’t served to them by a flight attendant, who presumably ensures that are not intoxicated before doing so, and in limited quantities at a time. Any restriction a flight attendant has to not serve customer provided alcohol is an airline restriction, not a federal restriction, probably because the airline used to make money selling alcohol.

  5. So American sees the problem, realizes that they’re causing the problem, and they know how to rectify the problem… But they won’t. Sounds like Parker to me.

  6. I’m pretty sure I could fit enough liquor minis in a liter size ziplock to get trashed. But in any case, gate agents are of little use in stopping pax from bringing alcohol on board. The go cup of wine is the exception; most bringing their own alcohol will have it their carry on, not visible.

    Gate agents can observe those who are intoxicated while still in the gate area, but I’m not sure how much a second agent helps on that front.

  7. Lovely… now we will have American flight attendants trying to grab people’s personal alcohol that they bring onboard. This will end as well as the first dozen reasons for why passengers are the whole problem.

  8. After finishing my final exam senior year in college, I boarded a flight with many classmates to a beach destination. I remember bringing on a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue (I think it was a size I could carry on somehow) to the flight. Me and my buddies were pouring, the FA eventually warned we would have to stop or have it confiscated.

    In terms fo today, people are probably
    1) Bringing on their own mini bottles
    2) Ordering to go drinks or beers restaurants, the pandemic has normalized takeout alcohol and drinking off premise in a lot of situations

  9. Umm, the correct Admirals Club wine to-go cup is a coffee cup with lid, not a clear one.

  10. On my recent flights the flights do one pass and then sit in back on their phones.

    Then you have to go back back and ask for additional service.

    The airlines need to increase service ( revenue) and people may not bring drinks on board and they can monitor them

  11. F DP. You are correct as taught to me years ago by Admirals’ club CSRs 😉
    As I no longer have club access, will a Starbucks cup wok?

  12. Anthony, great job. Our first 1983 trip to Cancun was early morning and I had a jug of mimosa For the four of us 🙂
    Cancun by Noon, Baby 🙂

  13. @Anthony … re: to-go alcohol. Not any more. NYC and other major cities have just stopped this. N.B. Good time to go to your favorite restaurant and offer to buy up some of their over-replete wine stock

  14. OTOH, next month’s Birthday Trip looks like no ungraded on first key DCA-JFK 🙁
    But between at drink at DCA and a drink at the TWA Hotel at JFK, I believe I’ll survive 😉

  15. CEO Parker is great ‘leading from behind’ and placing the FAs well-being at risk at altitude. He must have him one of those newly-minted looies who escaped being fragged?

    Instead, he should create a bold faced addendum on the website for ticket purchases and reserving the seat, as well as on the seat card itself: “Note: by purchase of this ticket and designated seat passenger accepts complete responsibility for their conduct on-board and in the air. This means passenger is exclusively responsible for all costs related to their disturbance including, but not limited to: diversion of flight for passenger to be removed; results of physical alteration with FAs/pilots; FAA-related fines, etc.” Remembering the FC passenger who thought it comical to poop on the food cart, depending upon the level of grossness related to their disturbance, those passengers should be banned from all flying, period. Forget the doctors note excusing their stupidity.

    I will say this for Amtrak–traveling on the Chicago-Seattle/Portland “Empire Builder” when Williston, ND was a major stop for oil fracking workers, the conductors had no time for belligerent, abusive, aggressive drunks. On one eastbound trip October, 2013, from Whitefish, Montana one of these tough guys was so obliterated at 0730 that he was tossed out of the diner. The conductor notified via radio the next town after East Glacier Park, where the train made an unscheduled stop at Cut Bank, MT on the edge of a reservation for police to board and arrest this guy. Little did he know he would be held for 24 hours until the next eastbound train came through to the nearest stop up the line (East Glacier Park).

    Immediate intervention is the key for ensuring the safety of passengers and crew. Thinking of that poor Southwest FA who had her teeth knocked out by an irate passenger, perhaps FAs/pilots should be trained and equipped with tasers..?

  16. Everyone read FAR 121.575 regarding alcohol restrictions for airlines. The Federal Air Regulation states that no one can consume alcohol unless it is served by the air carrier. Crews are required to follow all FARs. I’m would guess a JetBlue passenger was happy about their $9,000.00 fine from the FAA for refusing to stop drinking their own alcohol and shouting profanities at the flight attendants who told the person to stop drinking their own alcohol. The FAA has a ZERO TOLERANCE for any interference with crew duties or FAR non compliance.

  17. American is cutting costs and using the pandemic as an excuse. It is the worst managed airline of the big three and they almost blew up as they spent all their cash on buybacks, needing a Govt bailout last year. If you are so worried about customers getting hammered, just serve one drink. A lot of people are, for example, just afraid of flying and if you give them nothing to calm anxiety, they’ll just bring it with them.

  18. I see nothing wrong with bringing and taking alcohol on the plane, however, some people abuse the damn drink to the extent they get the non-alcoholic people uncomfortable, I believe too many complaints result to this

  19. First class gets to drink but second does not. TsA paid by government (tax payers) and airlines benefit. Yes sounds like everything going to plan to control the people in the back?

  20. American can hardly kick up a fuss about passengers in coach sneaking hooch onboard if the still give it away to first class passengers. There no way you can cause a stink about it unless you take it away from first class as well.

  21. So let me see if I understand here. An unpopular law/regulation has been levied prohibiting Americans from consuming alcohol and rather than abiding by it they are ignoring it and finding a way around it….. I feel like I’ve heard this story before.

    This is the most predictable result possible. We literally had to overturn prohibition… The war on drugs has not curbed drug use. It’s just not surprising at all.

    I’m not even saying the rule doesn’t have a purpose or that the people violating it are right. They probably aren’t. But right or wrong if you didn’t see this coming you are incredibly naive or stupid.

  22. Yeah but @David you must be “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters”, not Doug land where passengers are freight 🙂

  23. Name me one other place of business you can decide what rules you pick and choose to follow? It’s not just the alcohol, it’s everything else involved with the business that people feel they’re entitled to decide if they want to follow the rules or not. People are idiots with or without alcohol thus the ridiculous rise in passenger disturbances.

  24. So relieved I took early retirement after 37 years as a flight attendant.
    It’s disgraceful and deplorable behavior out there.

  25. People are upset about the mask requirement, alcohol is just a red herring. End the mask requirement which is unjustified at this point and not following any “science”. Remember when they said planes were one of the safest places due to venelation and remember no outbreaks ever traced to a plane.

    If you want alcohol now and aren’t paying first class, switch to Delta.

  26. You know… Walter Babcox and I went to the store the other day, and there were so many oranges… Just so many oranges.

  27. Why the hubbub about alcohol? It seems to me if you can’t handle being without alcohol for a while you have a problem. Isn’t the safety of everyone on board more important than alcohol?

  28. Yup, just like someone else said, if you can’t without a drink for the duration of your flight, you need to skip Cancun and go straight to rehab. All the fk’n losers that cause problems cuz they can’t go without booze is disgusting.

  29. Have passengers sign to be responsible for any and all unruly behavior . Any penalty fine unpaid is made a lien against property or collected from tax returns. Before ticket is Issued! Problem solved.

  30. Flying now is an unrelaxing nightmare. From kids using noisy devices without headphones (3 hours of the Barbie cartoon blasting) to adults on cellphones, again without headphones (3 hours of Candy Crush or vulgar rap blasting) to ignorant drunks and rabid anti-maskers creating loud disturbances, flying just sucks.

  31. I hit wind shear years ago and hate turbulence. I fly often and always drink at the bar before boarding plane. I find myself drinking more now. When they served alcohol on board I would have one drink before boarding because I knew I would have one on the plane. Now I drink 4 to 5 drinks to make sure it lasts the flight. I don’t think alcohol is really causing All of the problems the airlines are having in the sky. People are stressed out about all kinds of things we don’t know about. I think we need a lot more patience and kindness for each other. Take a deep breath and help each other.

  32. @Amazing Larry
    Yeah, stupid unreasonable people like “Chump Fools” don’t mind breaking the rules because of their so-called entitlement.
    Kevin P. Looker’s comments below apply to you.

  33. Confiscating personal alcohol is a misinterpretation of the regulation. You can drink personal alcohol, the catch is that it has to be served (poured) by the flight attendant so that they are able to observe if you’re intoxicated. I was pouring my own alcohol on a flight and the flight attendant informed me that she had to pour it as well as the reason why. I told her no problem and when I ran out of cola I asked if I could buy a can from her. She just gave it to me. FYI, you should still tip every time they pour, just as if you were purchasing. They’re still providing a service. Granted, this was many years ago but I doubt that the regulation has changed enough to include wording saying to confiscate or where the alcohol has to come from.

  34. I work on the ground in DFW airport and this is touching on a very real problem that is experienced in our daily operations.
    Single Agent Boarding procedure is very difficult to manage in itself, clearing standbys, assisting wheelchair passengers, boarding an aircraft and communicating with crew; not to mention dealing with Chad, who needs an immediate answer pertaining to a purchased upgrade chosen earlier in the day which, has not been fully processed.

    The law says you are not allowed to bring alcohol onto the plane and doing so puts everyone at risk; and your butt gets slapped with a hefty fine.
    Have a glass before coming onboard, thank the team who is working tirelessly to keep this operation moving and have a wonderful time! We want this to be as Amazing as it is! This is still futuristic travel, Y’all have some respect.

  35. If a person cannot stop drinking for 24 hour they need to seriously consider seeking treatment for alcohol addiction.

  36. Actually, I wish I could get some cannabis edibles before a flight. That would save a lot of problems on a long flight. People relaxing instead of being obnoxious.

  37. During a crew layover, confiscated passenger carry-on alcohol may help the flight crew reduce the cost of purchasing additional adult beverages for an evening crew party. Always drink responsibly.

  38. There is way too much drinking on planes and in airports — alcohol needs to be banned ! Too many drunks causing a bunch of problems.

  39. @Lisa Kennedy … Girl, if you need 4-5 drinks just to be able to fly, your problems aren’t going to end at the arrival gate. I could understand 1 drink to take the edge off but any more than that and one has serious problems. I am sorry no one has pointed it out to you. Try breathing exercises, soothing music or meditation but for goodness sake, stop drinking to where you’d be impaired trying to evacuate in case of emergency.

  40. @Ken. Alcohol that is purchased in Duty Free shops are NOT ALLOWED to be opened in flight. And so if you open it, to consume during flight, then it should be taken. And returned to you upon landing. And then let the authorities handle the situation.

  41. @Ken A SERIOUSLY!! You think crew members keep AND CONSUME any alcohol they confiscated from a passenger, on a layover? You’re a dork.

  42. @Kari… I cannot wait to follow in your shoes!
    @Sheeple … well said!!!!!
    AVIATION (the WHOLE WORLD actually) has “gone to hell in a hand basket”. It isn’t safe to travel on a plane (not for the flight crews, nor for the innocent bystander)
    Just last week (in DFW…imagine that) we had a GATE AGENT come onboard, at the end of boarding, and tell us that SHE was removing a family “because she knew the 2 year old child was actually 2 yrs AND 3 MONTHS, and didn’t have a mask on”
    Needless to say, the gate agent lost that battle. As she was asked politely by the main cabin crew, to “mind her own business”
    Seriously….2 years and 3 months?? Are you freaking kidding me with this??? The baby had a pacifier in her mouth! And the agent wanted to KICK A FAMILY OFF FOR THAT!?!?!?!? Get a life people!!! The masks are a freaking JOKE anyway!!! Mask Nazi’s are NOT NEEDED!!

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