Southwest Airlines just pushed back the return of alcohol on board to “late in the first quarter maybe early in the second quarter” a week ago blaming virus spread. And now they’ve reversed course. Booze will be back on board February 16th.
Starting Feb. 16, Southwest will sell alcohol, including beer, wine, rum, tequila and vodka on flights at least 176 miles long. It is also said it will also serve tonic water, apple juice, Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, hot tea and hot cocoa to current lineup of non-alcoholic beverages.
Suddenly the addition of vodka to orange juice no longer increases the R0 of Covid-19. Sadly this isn’t happening two days earlier or the LUV airline would be toasting to love.
Good news though Southwest is honoring free drink chits with 2020 and 2021 expiration dates. Here’s how you can still get free drinks on Southwest.
Just prior to airline deregulation, when Southwest Airlines had to start competing with Texas International Airlines and Braniff offering cheap fares between Houston and Dellas, they started giving out “to go” bottles of alcohol to full fare customers. They became the largest liquor distributor in the state.
For many years Southwest Airlines offered free drinks inflight to all customers. They cut that back to offering free drinks only during key business travel times. And then in 1988 they eliminated free alcohol from their flights, but started giving coupons to frequent flyers.
Booze may be part of the airline’s DNA, stemming from Wild Turkey-drinking co-founder Herb Kelleher, but the airline isn’t as loose with the drinks as they once were.
Chase stopped giving out drink chits to their cardholders in 2016. Southwest no longer sends them out when you redeem award tickets, or on your birthday. There seemingly aren’t as many free drink holidays on the airline as there used to be. Nonetheless there’s little doubt customers will return to their earlier drinking ways once they’re able to do so.
This leaves American Airlines largely alone refusing to serve alcohol in coach. They’ve tied the return of alcohol to the economy cabin to the lifting of the federal mask mandate, which currently runs through March 18. Their view is that alcohol could exacerbate tensions in back, with most passenger incidents tied to enforcement of masks (and American flight attendants seem to be, on average, more confrontational over masks than at other airlines where they’ll tend to just write up noncompliant passengers rather than ejecting customers and delaying flights). On the other hand American is happy to let first class passengers drink.
The ban on inflight alcohol at American and Southwest had meant that passengers pre-gamed at an alarming rate. For its part American has lobbied the federal government and airports to limit to go booze.