Some American Airlines Flight Attendants Refuse to Serve Drinks to Passengers

In the spring American Airlines started offering free alcoholic beverages to passengers seated in their extra legroom Main Cabin Extra seats, copying Delta (although Delta offers snacks too). American’s flight attendants have expressed frustration.

  • They’ll say they’re concerned about customers drinking too much
  • But the real concern appears to be having to do more work

Free drinks on board isn’t new. Main Cabin Extra coach passengers will never be served as many drinks as first class passengers because flight attendants are covering the entire coach cabin. On longer flights there may be a second drink pass. Otherwise passengers have to call over a flight attendant and ask for more.

Ringing the call button is something many US airline passengers are afraid to do. They’ve learned flight attendants don’t like it. And often drink requests are simply forgotten. So the idea that free drinks in Main Cabin Extra somehow creates a greater risk of overserving passengers than what airlines have managed in first class for decades is somewhat silly.

However it came up again at this past week’s employee Crew News question and answer session. A flight attendant asked the airline’s CEO Doug Parker about customers who “drink, drink, drink” and “come back to the galley and ask for more.” She says she feels like she “has to lie” to customers that might drink too much. And she thinks the airline needs to revisit its policy of free drinks.

Since the flight attendant asks about this not just on domestic flights but also international, Parker asks his team “internationally, is this a new program?” And American’s Vice President of Inflight says no, “it’s been a few years” and both domestically and internationally they were “later to adopt the program” and were following competitors.

Reading through my Facebook feed I see American Airlines passengers being told all the time that they aren’t allowed to have complimentary free drinks in Main Cabin Extra, despite American Airlines policy.

  • One customer asks, “Are the free [Main Cabin Extra] drinks limited to just 1? [Flight attendant] was charging for additional ones. ..I was only able to get one more drink [anyway] since I lost my aisle seat and ended up in window.”

  • Another believes that the Main Cabin Extra policy is “1 and done” because that’s what flight attendants say, though they “haven’t been charged yet, [flight attendants] just remind you.”

  • A third shares that they were flying San Francisco – Charlotte last week and they asked for a second drink. They were told they had to buy it. Upon pushing back the flight attendant agreed to comp the second drink as a one time exception.

American may be trying to match Delta drink-for-drink in extra legroom coach, but some of their flight attendants have different ideas.

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’ve only encountered this once in about 2M miles of flying – was on United and coming home transcon from a horrible work meeting. After asking for glass of wine #4 or 5, the FA very kindly said “we’re landing in about 30 minutes, how about I get you a glass of apple juice, or I could even bring a hot tea”?

    Very much appreciated her doing her job the right way, and was embarrassed that she even had to do that.

    American on the other hand? Based on my recent two years of having to fly them, this is completely a cost saving measure, or else they are saving the extra alcohol to give to their CEO. Take your pick. The airline of last resort.

  2. So it’s ok in first class to get 4 drinks on a 45 flight from phx to las but FAs are worried about giving coach passengers 2 drinks on a 4 or 5 hour flight. Lazy POS.

  3. Flew AA from MIA-SKB on a Avios rewards flight in Main Cabin Extra seats that were free due to Platinum status(temporary challenge offer). Flight attendant claimed only customers who paid for Main Cabin Extra were eligible for free drinks. Is this their policy?

  4. I had a similar experience on a Delta flying transcon in Comfort+ (or whatever they call it).

    After my one free drink, I was offered, on the second drink pass, and I quote, “Water or juice?” I asked for another glass of wine, and the FA said she didn’t have any; when I said I could very clearly see the mini-bottles of wine in the cart, she grew annoyed, gave me a mini-bottle, said nothing, and moved on.

  5. In one way AA beats Delta on drink policies. AA allows EXPs free drinks and a snack when sitting in any main cabin seat including exit rows. Delta diamonds have no corresponding benefit. They merely have free access to C+. For me, an exit row seat is preferable to MCE or C+. I’ve never had a problem with AA FAs with this. Often on shorter flights where a second round is unlikely, they provide a double without being asked. PDBs is another matter. It’s hit or miss with AA crews but improving.

  6. I was on an AA flight last week where the FAs announced over the PA “please ring your call bell if you want beverage service.”

    AA is nothing if not inconsistent.

  7. People who fly first class are higher class and more refined. They know how to handle their alcohol with class. Those in economy are often poor and uneducated. With too much alcohol they might become rowdy. The 1 drink rule for them makes sense.

  8. We are thinking about a charging a mandatory $20 resort charge for each flight that comes with one free drink.

  9. Why do these hideous stories re AA mirror Amtrak–the only consistency is the inconsistency in policy; how policies are interpreted and carried out on-board?

    Apparently, like Amtrak, management is never to be seen aboard a flight; verifying competencies and performance-and attitude. This issue is about pure accountability and if management is effective. AA management does not need to read Peter Drucker to appreciate how to manage employees; emphasize customer experience.

    Ironically, before I switched back to AA 10 years ago, my problem was with UA–FAs served me in FC Virgin Marys despite asking for Bloody Marys; than feigned innocent mis-interpretation. Only one recent problem on AA-over weight, tired FA wanted to sit all the way from ORD-LAX, so served only one cocktail, than lunch; rested for balance of trip. When I questioned another FA on flight, I was informed this FA was at the end of her schedule and tired. I suggested moving her to coach where nobody would notice the difference; however, in first, people have minimal expectations.

  10. I think you’re misrepresenting the nature of what the FA spoke to in Crew News. At no point did she complain about serving passengers drinks nor that they couldn’t keep up with the passenger demand. She even sympathetically expressed she didn’t like having to lie to cut off a passenger when they’ve over consumed. Her main point was an increasing number of passengers have access to unlimited alcohol on the aircraft and raises the chances of they’re an issue.

    Majority of the circumstances passengers seem to be explaining, honestly, sound like FA misinformation or not understanding the new product. The new product offering could probably be better communicated from Flight Service but ultimately FA’s do have to make an effort to read the rules.

    Either way, the FA Tablet or OSR, shouldn’t process an alcohol sale for those seat numbers or there should be a notification of the rule when a charge for alcohol is attempted.

  11. I would suggest AA do two things regarding this issue. First, re-train FAs. It seems they don’t even communicate things well to employees like most major corporations. Second, stop trying to do any drink service on short haul flights under 1 hour. I think we can survive 40 minutes in the air without a diet Coke or bloody Mary.

  12. Obviously this is nothing new and unfortunately the management team is tone deaf. We need to stop calling this airline American Airlines and start calling it US Airways since it’s their management team that is running the new airline. The second main problem are the new flight attendants. Training is different with this new airline and the new flight attendants dont have the same pride nor training as legacy AA. They feel entitled and not willing to go the extra mile.

  13. @WyattN – no I am not misrepresenting, the sentiment about workload was expressed in a different Crew News session, I link to that discussion in my post

  14. Flew American economy plus Newark to Edinburgh last May. First time for me on American in a long, long time. Antiquated plane with the laziest, most indifferent crew I have ever encountered on an international flight. Will be on AA in business class from Santiago Chile back to EWR via Miami next Feb and hoping for a better experience. If not, I am done with them forever.

  15. I googled this because I thought it was the weirdest thing ever but it’s completely true. Took an AA flight last night at 10pm and it was a red eye but I couldn’t sleep as I was jet lagged from another flight half a world away 3 days prior. Asked for an orange juice first. After that I went to the back of the plane to get a baileys and a wine. The flight attendant followed me all the way back to my extra cabin seat with the wine. No idea why maybe she wanted to check I was there cuz it’s supposed to be free.
    A baileys does absolutely next to nothing for me and I went to get 2 more after almost 3.5 hours into the flight and the guy asked me where I was. After I told him it’s the extra cabin he asked if I was from a particular row and said that the row had asked for too many wines and free drinks. I was quite taken aback because a) I was perfectly sober b) I didn’t know they had some KPI not to give free drinks out. c) I had never been rejected for free alcoholic drinks before on a flight d) I couldn’t believe that they had such poor service maybe because I had taken Emirates and SQ and Qatar and they would never had said this to any of their customers e) how did anyone in my row asking for alcohol got to do with me asking for alcohol f) the whole row to my left and right and behind and in front were asleep g)lastly because I am asian and a female did they think I was going to wreak the cabin? I had been sitting there watching Men in Black and trying to fall asleep.

    He said he ran out of baileys (I highly doubted this) and after that I asked for white wine. After that I asked for water and the flight attendant pretended not to hear me. My partner who was asleep before had to repeat my request to him. After I asked for water a second round and he didn’t acknowledge it I went past him to throw my white wine cup into his trash bag and to the back to ask for his name and my cup of water because I figured out a) telling him off would be absolutely useless as he would probably try to make a case that I’m drunk so as to not serve me alcohol b) it would be better to flag out his poor conduct to higher management and c) so I can relay this story point by point so that everyone knows that I was completely aware of what was happening.

    PS: I didn’t even press the call button once the whole flight. I went to the bathroom and then to the back of the plane to get my drinks because I thought it wasn’t nice to press the call button.

  16. Let’s call this for what it is. Lazy FAs, which is becoming the norm these days with all the older senior FAs left flying, who should retire, and AA becoming run by accountants try to squeeze every penny they can out of the travelers. What a shame to watch the airline industry sink lower than Amtrak. You can still get a meal and a drink on the train.

  17. Let’s call this for what it is. Lazy FAs, which is becoming the norm these days with all the older senior FAs left flying, who should retire, and AA becoming run by accountants try to squeeze every penny they can out of the travelers. What a shame to watch the airline industry sink lower than Amtrak. You can still get a meal and a drink on the train.

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