The federal mask mandate has led to more passenger incidents on planes than we’ve ever seen before. American Airlines doesn’t want to take an already combustible situation and make it worse, so their CEO has consistently said he wouldn’t bring back inflight alcohol sales to coach until the mask mandate is lifted. But he’s frustrated that customers have just been bringing their own alcohol on planes instead.
American Airlines has a plan to combat this. At an employee meeting this past week, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, CEO Doug Parker expressed exasperation offering,
I don’t know why it’s still continuing. That’s why it’s frustrating. We’ve done so much. I’m proud of what the team has done, I’m not proud of the result because it’s still happening.
He says that American Airlines has been investigating 1 in every 300,000 passengers for an airline ban – about two people per day that they “have to decide if they can ever fly American Airlines or not.” That’s a five-fold increase.
Parker lists several actions that have been taken,
- Passenger bans. They don’t ban customers permanently for a mask infraction, just “until the mask mandate goes away,” however if “someone puts a hand on a flight attendant” or gate agent they can’t fly the airline again and they’re working to get the passenger prosecuted.
- FAA engagement. The FAA has put out informational videos and sought fines.
- A new inflight announcement that is stronger and “crystal clear” that includes letting passengers know they can’t have their own alcohol, and Parker tells flight attendants “if you see people with their own alcohol take it away.”
- Keeping alcohol out of coach. Southwest is the only other major carrier doing this. Parker reiterated that they’d planned to bring back alcohol sales with the lifting of the mask mandate next month, but now that the mandate has been extended to January the alcohol ban is extended as well.
Parker declared, to applause, “the customer is not always right.” He then added “that’s a hard thing to say with our customers listening” (since he knows that these sessions always leak to View From The Wing).
Chief Operating Officer David Seymour shared the plan for what’s next: getting government to crack down on airport alcohol sales. He says that they’ve already gotten Dallas – Fort Worth airport to ban alcohol to go from restaurants. However they’ve been pushing on Charlotte to eliminate the practice, they’re “shutting down as much as they can,” but vendors there are resistant. That’s why they’ve engaged their government affairs team “trying to crack down.”
Parker offered that airport restaurants started serving drinks to go when you couldn’t go inside, early in the pandemic, but now that those restrictions are no longer in place to go sales don’t make sense. He’s wrong of course, in that many airports (including my home airport of Austin) had alcohol to go long before the pandemic. Parker notes that vendors don’t want to give up the alcohol sales because of the revenue. American Airlines takes a slice of that revenue, too, at many airports. They aren’t offering to forego or return some of that revenue in exchange for eliminating to go sales of alcohol.