How Does Banning Inflight Alcohol Protect Us From The Coronavirus?

Airlines around the world “are suspending all or part of their alcoholic drinks service in response to Covid-19.” But how on earth is this a response to COVID-19?

I asked how alcohol bans have any relation to COVID-19 whatsoever the other day on twitter and the best answer I got was about how such bans on the ground could matter. We don’t want people congregating at bars, and when people drink they get closer to each other and may be less likely to social distance. But that tells us nothing about how limiting alcohol inflight might relate in any way to reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Eliminating drink service entirely encourages social distancing between flight attendants and passengers, but where airlines continue to offer drinks what’s the difference between offering tomato juice and offering that tomato juice with vodka? Does the virus spread less effectively through alcohol on longer flights where alcohol may still be offered, or in premium cabins?

Just like eliminating on board food is as much about cost-cutting as social distancing, eliminating alcohol is a cost-savings measure. It’s fine for airlines to reduce their service in light of significantly reduced revenue – it’s a business strategy that may or may not work out for them – but we shouldn’t simply nod and accept the line that this is “because of coronavirus.”

It’s too close to the Hilton hotel that blamed a room service delivery taking more than an hour and a half on 9/11, in 2004 or 2005. Apparently the downtown after 9/11 caused the hotel to reduce staff, and they never scaled back up completely. Saying then that an inability to offer prompt room service years later “because of 9/11” was sort of true, from a certain point of view. The downturn in the airline business because of the novel coronavirus now means that any cost-cut is “because of the virus.”

What am I missing?

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. I assume no refunds on account of no service. Paid flights in domestic first now amount to a larger seat. Paid a premium for that ($700 each) when still “full service,” can book same flights in economy now for $120. I guess taking a voucher and rebooking is best option, though don’t know that I’ll be able to use (I’m in the 12 month from booking window on Delta, not through 2021)

  2. Never waste a good opportunity in a crises.

    This is cost cutting. The happiest folks will be…..

    1- Airline accountants

    2- American Airlines FA’s who have been terrified of the Pre Departure Beverage for years.

  3. Flying business class used to benefit you principally by giving you a larger and, on many airlines, private seat, as well as copious quantities of decent food and drink. Today it just buys you the larger and private seat. But that, in itself, is now far more valuable to the average customer, so the airline could claim that its value proposition for Business Class is enhanced, assuming the premium remains the same.

  4. Call me naive, but the practice reduces the chance that a passenger (and flight attendants) will make mistakes about how much alcohol the passenger can consume without becoming even moderately belligerent or engage in other behaviors that increase COVID related risks.

  5. This is one of the reasons I won’t hurry back to international travel. If I spend the money for a business seat, I want the United Polaris lounge and full service on the aircraft. Until then I’ll stay home or fly an airline that has it.

  6. I also suspect it’s a way to prevent drunk passengers and reducing the chances that FAs from having to make physical contact with unruly passengers.

    And…cutting costs, duh.

  7. Really, you have never seen someone disinhibited from too much alcohol? Even speaking too loudly increases risk of transmission. Certainly, when drunk one forgets about 6 feet, masks, covering ones mouth with cough and sneezing. I think it is a socially responsible policy that also helps staff avoid unwanted inappropriate advances from drunk and unruly passengers. Really, you have never seen someone flying too drunk to be socially responsible? It won’t prevent someone from coming on the plane drunk but it will certainly decrease their liability from a superspreader event.

  8. How is this cost cutting? I would think alcohol sales would be money generator. $5-8 for a vodka soda sounds like someone is making money


  10. From what I have seen, airlines sell very little alcohol in cattle class and have to give out much more free alcohol in first (and business) class. It would be interesting to see how much they make from total alcohol sales versus how much they spend on serving free and paid for alcohol. Then we could know whether it is cost saving. Clearly, eliminating free food is cost saving.

  11. To be extra virus safe, Air Canada has decided to stop serving ANY drinks other than water.

    Because you know, viruses just love hot beverages like coffee, so we could never ever risk serving such poisonous libations to passengers in this day and age.

  12. I’m flying on Saturday — I will have ice in my flask so it will be legal going through the TSA scan .. not sure about if I’m taking miniatures yet … but at least I will be able to ensure my glass of mediocre white wine is cold.

  13. Pretty obvious. As people drink they get pretty lax about things like compliance with facemaks etc. Alcohol also increases the chances of some passenger deciding to become combative over being told to wear a mask. Medically speaking drinking alcohol does reduce your immune system so it could make you more susceptible to catching the virus although I doubt that is a factor. Face it some people can’t handle alcohol and will act out.

  14. Bring your own. Keep it under 3 ounces.

    Technically, it’s 100 mL, not 3 ounces. This is two miniatures, which are 50 mL each.

  15. I’d have thought that, if the flight attendants are not serving food nor alcohol, their chances of coming into contact with you is greatly reduced.

    I’d have thought that was blatantly obvious.

    Obviously not. This blog becomes more and more like the national enquirer every day with it’s conspiracy theories.

  16. @Panda Mick – but they WILL serve drinks, and they WILL serve alcohol in premium cabins, that’s what you seem to be missing.

  17. Or you can bring on up to 12 ounces of booze, as long as its clear and you put it in a hand sanitizer bottle. Fill the bottle with Everclear, and you can actually use it to clean your hands!

  18. Agreed to an airline should feel a duty to explain their reasons for negative changes to the customer experience. When they get real quiet, you know they are saving ng the scrilla.

    I got no problem with that if they are honest about it.

  19. The reasoning behind it is that it requires credit card transactions and that means more contact. Duh! Also for those that have posted bring your own, it is against the law (FAA) to drink alcoholic beverages that you have brought on board and the airlines did not serve you. Finally, airlines make money off of the spirited beverages. a mini bottle costs about 50-75 cents a piece.

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