Delta Brings Back On Board Booze Starting Thursday

U.S. airlines eliminating inflight alcohol is as much cost-cutting as it is a coronavirus protection measure. Serving a customer tomato juice isn’t safer than serving that tomato juice with vodka.

Eliminating booze in domestic economy, where airlines were charging for it, is another measure – because that eliminates the need for a payment transaction, an interaction between flight attendant and passenger.

Still, American Airlines dropped alcohol service in “Main Cabin Extra” extra legroom coach, where it was previously free. Delta eliminated it even in first class as well as their “Comfort+” extra legroom coach seating. When few people were traveling, and there was little competition in service, the bet was this didn’t matter.

Of course dropping meals and booze from most flights meant little reason to ‘buy up’ to a bigger seat (especially when Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue continue to block middle seats). In fact it’s cheaper just to buy yourself an extra seat in coach much of the time.

With some domestic leisure travel returning, and with airlines beginning to bring back their domestic schedules, there are both some customers and some flight choices. Competition matters.

Delta is bringing back beer and wine starting July 2.

Beginning July 2, domestic First Class and Delta Comfort+ customers will begin to see complimentary beer and wine on all flights greater than 500 miles as Delta begins reintroducing adult beverage offerings after recent service adjustments made in March.

Delta teams listened to feedback from customers and consulted with health professionals before bringing single-serve red and white wine, as well as Heineken, Miller Lite, SweetWater 420 and SweetWater IPA * back on-board.

…Flight attendants will pass the cans and single-serve bottles – which are complimentary in both First Class and Delta Comfort+ – using serving trays to minimize touch points on-board. Since beer and wine selections have fewer touch points than other adult beverage options and are individually contained, they are the first to be reintroduced on-board as Delta brings back food and beverage options.

The idea that beer and wine ‘have fewer touch points’ than other alcoholic beverages seems wrong to me. Perhaps mixed drinks have more ingredients but customers can mix those themselves. What about a scotch or whiskey, though? There’s little question the continued elimination of booze, in cabins where no payment transaction has been required, isn’t out of fear of the virus. Is air travel safe or isn’t it?

My two takeaways here are: (1) Delta sees business as getting better, that customers would actually consider inflight product not just cleanliness and whether they have to fly but also who they have to fly, and (2) there may be some pressure on American to offer drinks in Main Cabin Extra – but since many American lower and mid-level managers got their walking papers today it’s not the best day for that.

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. “What about a scotch or whiskey, though?” – the ones that are suitable for drinking neat are not served onboard, if I recall.

    “Is air travel safe or isn’t it?” – false dichotomy. Travel is not going to be flat out “safe” (pre-COVID levels) until we are vaccinated. Right now it’s about what level of safety travelers will accept. As stay-home orders continue and travelers become more anxious, they will accept riskier conditions just for the chance to get out there and travel.

  2. Maybe American Airlines did not want the American lower and mid-level managers who got their walking papers today to enjoy one final adult beverage in the sky as they jet back to their home base.

  3. Since Delta isn’t saying the kind of wine or the brand, I suspect it would be Sutter Home or some rubbish that’s on par with Barefoot and Boone’s Farm. I’d be pleasantly surprised if I could get Mumm or Chandon sparkling wine from California.

  4. premium wines can and do come in small bottles…If delta requested a prem winery will do so… look at Gott’s taylor refresher in st helena

  5. I’d be content with Finlandia or Tito’s vodka…and a can of ginger ale, please, I’ll mix my own. Beer gives me gout flare-ups and have never developed a taste for wine.

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