Do You Drink When You Fly? Do You Drink Alone? With Your Family? How Do You Compare to Your Fellow Flyers?

When I’m flying up front I enjoy a nice cocktail. In international first class a glass of champagne is especially nice. I’ve strangely never been a huge fan of Krug (the preferred bottle on ANA and Cathay Pacific), and the 2003 Dom Perignon just isn’t up to recent vintages. I greatly enjoyed the 2000 and 2002.

It doesn’t have to be quite the same level of name if it’s thoughtfully chosen, but it does usually have to be a better bottle than the US airlines are willing to spring for in their premium cabins.

Although there is something special about the ‘smirk’ that Singapore Airlines flight attendants do when asking if you’d like champagne. A simple ‘yes, please’ is met with, “Would you prefer Dom or Krug?”

They’re clearly proud that they serve both. And have offered their own branded Dom, as one of the world’s largest consumers of it.

Champagne seems to translate well in the skies. A big red wine for some reason doesn’t, at least for my palate. Even a Lynch Bages or Pichon Longueville will usually taste flat or cloying to me.

Domestically I might have a gin and tonic or a bloody mary. I’m not a heavy drinker in the skies, usually a single cocktail will suffice.

But in the back of the bus? Maybe if I’m in economy plus, or an exit row. But crammed into a middle seat a cocktail sin’t going to take the edge off for me. I’m not inclined to pay for it, and I certainly wouldn’t pay premium cocktail prices for a specialty drink.

Which is why I read with some fascination this Scott Mayerowitz AP story on US airlines developing cocktails that sell at a premium, and also on trends in inflight consumption.

Interesting facts from the piece:

  • Virgin America is introducing a feature to let you buy a drink for another passenger, paying at your seat but directing its delivery elsewhere.
  • Drink sales peak on Thursdays. It’s the end of the business travel week, so the flight home tends to be cocktail-heavy.
  • The unsurprising corollary is that drink sales are lightest on Mondays.
  • Spring break is peak time for onboard liquor sales.
  • Drink sales plummet between Christmas and New Years. The piece speculates it’s because people travel with their families, and that they’re already drinking for the holidays. It’s probably true that solo travelers drink more (unless they’re in their 20s), but that’s also likely a business vs. leisure travel distinction as well.
  • Flights to Las Vegas sell twice the average in liquor, everyone is getting into the party mood. Leaving Las Vegas is a different story…

What are your onboard drinking habits? Do you drink when you fly? Do you drink if you’re in back and have to pay for it? Does an open bar on an international flight change the equation? Is family travel different from business travel? Is solo business travel different from traveling with colleagues?

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 shocks me is that the sales aren’t much higher than $50 or so per flight. At $7 a pop, that’s not very many drinks for 100-200 people.

    At $7 a drink, the tab for a 24-passenger first class cabin on a transcon must be about $300.

  2. I only drink when I travel, and typically only when I travel overseas. Alcohol on a plane is immaterial to me in every way.

  3. -I drink when I fly, but only up front
    -Open bar on International? Maybe. Maybe not
    -I will drink during family travel, but only up front
    -I never fly with business colleagues. They refuse to fly with me because I need all the EQMs I can squeeze out of each trip. But who cares if I am upfront?
    -At home I have maybe 1-2 drinks a month.

  4. Glass of Champagne before and a glass of red with dinner works well for me. I find still white does not work at altitude and softer reds work better. In economy a little bottle of red with dinner helps anaesthetise the pain…

  5. The last time I’ve drank any alcohol was a couple sips of wine with dinner on a First Class Domestic flight in July of 2000. I don’t drink normally because of medications that I take.

  6. In the front or on a GOOD airline when it’s complimentary in economy, yes. Or when I have Southwest drink tickets. Otherwise, it irks me to pay the minibar-like prices. No wonder they don’t sell much of it.

    I’m more likely to pay for it with my wife along than not as we’re usually leaving on a vacation and, like the Las Vegas example, in a more festive and free-spending mood.

  7. @Gene The $7 sale price is lot higher than the actual cost to make the drink so its not apples to apples comparison.

  8. I definitely indulge when it is an open bar. Particularly when I am sitting in cattle class on a 14 hour flight to Australia (a trip I take regularly). I find that 4 of those little bottles of wine make the experience much more bearable! Although I sometimes feel a little awkward having to track down the QANTAS flight attendant to ask for more wine. They are usually quite good about it though.

  9. I always drink on planes! It’s one of my favorite things to do. Makes the time pass so much quicker! When I fly coach, I’ll actually go to the liquor store beforehand and buy some of those tiny bottles like they sell on the plane. Then I just ask the flight attendant for an extra cup of ice and pour my own liquor into it. That way, I can drink, but not have to shell out $7 for each one.

  10. I drink as much free booze as they’re willing to serve me, typically gin and tonic either preflight or during the first round of drink service, and red wine with dinner and any other subsequent drink services.

    Of course, on Alaska I drink as much craft beer as possible.

  11. I ask for water when I fly. If I have a flight in first class, the FAs give me a “this kid is a rookie” look when I turn down champagne for water.

  12. I like a drink in every class of service, probably a couple extra drinks in the nose of the plane.



  13. Yes, always drink on planes. Especially when traveling with your family. 😉 Just one drink usually does the trick.

  14. Domestically primarily Woodford, either neat or with 1 ice cube. Occasionally on later flights coffee and Bailey’s, and on hot days a gin and tonic. As only Delta serves drinakble whiskey aloft, the gin and tonic would be the default on other airlines.

    Internationally the same if in coach, and exploring whatever looks good if up front.

    In general this is all when it’s complimentary. Paid occasionally.

  15. Can’t drink on planes ( alcohol doesn’t taste right at altitude). My husband picks up the slack though 😉

  16. I utilize lounge access and drink there, if I’m up front I have to get the most bang for my buck and usually have scotch on the rocks, in the back ill burn free drink vouchers on scotch as well. I drink craft beer on the ground and have yet to see a good beer list of a flight…

  17. @Traveler Tim – Are the prices really much more than you’d pay at a bar on the ground?

    @George – Bringing your own is illegal.

  18. On United, the economy white wine is “Hayes Valley” or something, which is, to use a technical term, “yucky.”

    I would probably drink more on leisure/non-working flights if they served a better wine! Short of that, a vodka tonic suffices.

    When on an Int’l flight I’m a Bailey’s gal…that’s about the only place I drink it!

  19. I usually take advantage of lounge access on the ground before the flight, but when I’m in the mode I’ll grab a drink on the flight.

  20. AA apparently buys its wines in stocks of a million. That is why we will be drinking the Trinity Sh*t forever.

  21. We pretty much have wine with dinner 5 times a week but I rarely spend a lot per bottle. Put me in the front of an international flight and I taste everything. And I am constitutionally unable to say no to Johnnie Walker Blue!

  22. Never drink when flying. Although I’ve been sick only once on the plane, I try not to add to potential discomfort. One of these days, when I have enough time to recoup on the other side, I will 🙂

    Oh, but there was one time, first time in Europe where I got business class for some reason from Copenhagen to Vilnius and I was served what I thought was apple juice. One champagne glass gulped down, I fell asleep and my migraine got better during the flight. So may be I am missing out on something.

  23. Almost never in coach. In first, about one an hour, with a max of three. I do try to pace myself.

    Also, I always order them individually. It always seems to be the business travelers who order three minis of Jack and a can of Coke.

  24. Drinking right now on the ground at DCA pre departure. Delta F. Tend to stick to red wine domestically. Call me crazy.

  25. Drinking on the flight always makes the seat more comfortable.I remember taking a chartered flight to Puerto Rico early in the morning. At the end of the flight I requested a screwdriver and asked what I owed. The reply was that the drinks were complimentary. I couldn’t believe I had wasted so much time! Didn’t happen on the return flight.

  26. If it’s free, it’s open season. If I have to pay, forget it. I’m a big dude, so it takes more than a drink or two to “take the edge off.”

  27. If it’s free, it’s open season. If I have to pay, forget it. I’m a big dude, so it takes more than a drink or two to “take the edge off.”

  28. No, I don’t drink. I usually ask for water or soda. And yes, like the previous poster, I get “this kid is a rookie” look too, though I’m hardly a rookie when it comes to flying.

  29. Krug vintage blows away Dom.

    Krug MV (what they call their nonvintage) is something I used to prefer to Dom in the early 90s, then I preferred the Dom 96 for as long as I could get that. The MV is not as consistent as they would have us believe.

    I’m good for a bottle of Krug on CX F. First half of the flight, Krug (supplemented with Lynch Bages), second half, all water.

    Domestic, I feel similarly – I need a drink in Coach (if it’s the return). If upgraded, I may have a Scotch, but usually there is nothing in the wine department that I care for (too put it mildly). Usually, I’ll pass.

  30. If upgraded, I will generally try all the wines, though that usually isn’t very many to try (on UA/CO/AA), even on international flights. Was disappointed on a recent 7 hour DEN-HNL United flight that a cheapo Smoking Loon was the one red choice in F/C. I would buy wine in coach occasionally if better wines were offered.

  31. I’m not a drinker and never really built up my tolerance. To give you an idea, I feel light headed and slightly buzzed even with just half a glass (think Delta domestic first). I also had a few unpleasant experiences from drinking in the air so I try to avoid the alcholic drinks while in the air … even when its free.

    Having said that, when I do finally get to fly CX First, I think I will have to try the Krug or Dom … just because I read so much about it 😉

  32. I feel like a teenager in that I almost always drink when I’m in F, simply because its free. I feel like it makes me look like an amateur. In the back of the bus, I only rarely drink.

  33. My record is burning through 13 Southwest drink coupons on a flight from Chicago to Vegas with a buddy of mine. Coincidentally that may have been our most sober few hours on the trip. 🙂

  34. I only drink when I’m flying north. And when I’m flying south. Sometimes I drink when I’m flying west. When I’m flying east I consider it obligatory.

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