“That’s Illegal!” Woman Caught Drinking Kombucha On Southwest Airlines Flight

A Southwest Airlines passenger was scolded by a flight attendant for drinking kombucha on board – telling her that it’s illegal to bring on board. Kombucha contains alcohol and you cannot drink alcohol that you’ve served to yourself on a plane.

Kombucha generally contains a small amount of alcohol as a byproduct of its fermentation process. The level can vary based on the fermentation duration, temperature, and microbial cultures used. Homemade kombucha can have higher alcohol levels, especially if it’s fermented for longer periods than what you’d buy at a store. In fact at higher alcohol levels it can be illegal for minors to buy kombucha!

Alcohol content of 0.5% ABV or lower is generally considered non-alcoholic. Minors can buy it, and passengers can bring it on planes – if they can get it through TSA or find it to buy airside in the airport.

If you carry kombucha with you on an international flight, and bring it into your destination country, know that higher alcohol volumes can trigger import restrictions and customs duties.

And higher alcohol volumes can trigger policies prohibiting passengers from consuming their own alcoholic beverages, meant to manage alcohol consumption on the plane.

Here it’s likely that the alcohol by volume of the kombucha was in the normal range, and the crewmember was wrong. It also appears that while they were being told it’s illegal, it must not have been so illegal that it was taken away. Law enforcement was not involved.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. So you can’t bring a non-alcoholic beverage on board SWA, but you’re allowed to block an entire row of seats and overhead bins for your friends boarding last in Group C?

  2. @Captain Freedom: Besides blocking an entire row of seats, Southwest Airlines allows passengers of any age to freshen their breath using the original Listerine mouthwash formula which has a 26.9 percent alcohol content. As an emergency healthcare practitioner, I’ve noticed that some passengers avoid hangovers by staying drunk while flying.

  3. I just looked at the regulations, it specifically says “drink” so I guess the chicken marsala my mom used to give me was safe 🙂

    Agreed seems pretty extreme to confiscate someone’s kombucha…if it’s something so innocuous I’d probably jokingly (I guess not anymore) give an unopened manufacturer bottle to the FA and have the FA hand it back

  4. Are you a former grade school hall monitor and looking for a new career? Try being a flight attendant!

  5. @AllyCooper818 posting her behaviour and thoughts – justified or not – on social media is a sure way to get herself on a no-fly list.

  6. Gary,

    FAR121.575 states:
    (a) No person may drink any alco-holic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.

    NOTE – the FAR DOES NOT PROHIBIT an individual from bringing and drinking their own alcoholic beverage; but the FA MUST serve that beverage to the passenger. The passenger MAY NOT serve themselves.

    What does serve mean? “Serve, verb, to present, to give to, to attend., etc. ” There is nothing in the definition such as, “to sell, to provide, and so on.

    The airlines deliberately misinform passengers by stating, YOU are prohibited from drinking that onboard, which is a falsehood.

    If the FAA or Congress had wanted to prohibit passengers from drinking their own beverage, they would have stated that. What is in the FAR’s however is unambiguous, and in reality awaiting some sharp lawyer who will create a Class Action suit against one or more airlines to make a point – and a boatload of cash.

  7. 9TK —
    You seem to understand what you’re reading, but not the implication of what you’re reading.

    “FAR DOES NOT PROHIBIT an individual from bringing and drinking their own alcoholic beverage; but the FA MUST serve that beverage to the passenger. ” Ok. Great. So how is that nuance relevant to this situation. The Pax was not served (“given, presented to, etc) the beverage. She brought it on herself (which isn’t illegal) and drank it (which is a violation the FARs). Are you suggesting that, somehow, she was served the drink?

    In any case, it’s silly to think that there’s a class action suit here. Airlines make plenty of rules which go above and beyond the FARs.

    FWIW, that can of Kombucha looks a lot like a hard drink (hard kombucha, High Noon, etc). It even has a name that could be mistaken for a hard canned drink. I wouldn’t be surprised if the FA assumed that was the case.

  8. It’s like this: Yes, flight attendants, since 9/11, are overly empowered with little guidelines on what they should or shouldn’t do. Saying that, passengers should be aware beforehand that very little antics, including drunken behavior, will be tolerated these days. Behave yourself and act civil. Don’t give flight attendants, who may be having a bad day, make you the person responsible for their life failures.

  9. I am a kombucha brewer. It is less than 0.5% and qualifies as non alcoholic and can be legallt purchased by minors at any grocery store.

  10. Another kombucha, drinking douche bag in Rockport,s being harassed by a power tripping FA. Just another day in the battle

  11. And yet they serve canned lemonade and orange soda both of which have alchohol in the same small amounts as traditional commerical Kombucha’s like GT’s.

  12. The reason that airlines want to “serve” alcohol to customers is only partly for avoiding drunken behavior. Perhaps more importantly, it is a significant source of additional revenue. If they didn’t make beaucoup bucks on alcohol, it would probably disappear from flights altogether.

  13. I’m a flight attendant and would NEVER even pay a second thought to someone minding their own business and drinking a Kombucha this flight attendant reaction is ridiculous as well as the individuals on this post making generalizations that “all” flight crew are “tyranical scum.” As ridiculous a response as the actions of the FA in this situation.

  14. Orange juice has the same amount of alcohol.

    Interestingly non alcoholic beer is about the same but in CA you can’t check out through a self serve check out as they think it is alcohol.

  15. Orange juice also has naturally occurring alcohol. Gos forbid someone brings any from the airport shop!!

  16. @NinerTangoKIlo: Yes, that’s what the FAR says. But that is not the end of the analysis.

    Every U.S. carrier has a provision in their operating manual that provides flight attendants may only serve alcohol when it is provided by the airline.

    The FAA approves flight manuals. When approved, they have the force of law as an FAR.

  17. I wouldn’t be as concerned about the alcohol content of that kombucha so much as the other passengers in a confined space being subjected to the awful stink that some have. To me, most kombucha smells like dirty socks!

  18. Like hall monitors and many cops, you give a group of people blanket power and the dumb ones abuse it.

  19. Absolutely not. Was this an international flight? That drink was non-alcoholic according to federal law. No part of the FAR defines the world “alcoholic” and it cannot reasonably be construed to mean anything with greater than 0% alcohol because *orange juice* does not meet that standard. (Grape Juice 0.86%, Apple Juice 0.26%, Orange Juice 0.2%)

    To the FA who commented that the Southwest flight attendant was being unreasonable, but that the comment deriding cabin crew as petty dictators… just accept reality. An FA can and has had the plane turned around because a passenger had the temerity to call the “waiter.” I have seen FAs deny passengers a meal because they ignored the person’s ask when pushing the cart by at speed (after they served me.) They said “it’s too late” and she went hungry. I shared my food with her. — It isn’t just me, from tiny to huge, FAs are in extremis.

    This one acted purely out of ignorance because they don’t know what Kombucha is, and there are no circumstances under which you can educate, correct, or point out anything to an FA. Absolute power and all…

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