There’s Nothing Wrong With Serving Alcohol On Planes During The Pandemic

Summer Hull at The Points Guy argues that airlines shouldn’t serve alcohol on planes during the pandemic because alcohol tempts people to drink more than they would if they only had non-alcoholic beverages, which means less mask wearing.

If you’re drinking water, you’ll probably take a sip or two to rehydrate and then are done for a while and can put your mask back on. …Unless you’re in a beer-guzzling contest, however, the entire point of an adult beverage is usually to sip and enjoy it over time — which is exactly what some people are doing.

Coach cabins don’t have alcohol on domestic flights today. This is cost savings masked as Covid protection (eliminating cash sales). We haven’t seen greater virus spread in domestic first class cabins, and we don’t see virus spread from business class cocktails. Tomato juice doesn’t carry a greater risk of virus transmission when you add vodka. Indeed screwdrivers are good sources of vitamin D, which appears to be protective against Covid-19, or at a minimum against bad outcomes from it.

Another argument against inflight drinking – that Summer does not make – is that it creates a greater risk of bad behavior among passengers. But the risk of drinking too much during air travel is reduced with fewer venues open in airports to drink before flights. Drinking on planes always comes with some risk of drunk passengers behaving badly but that risk is actually lower now, with so many places closed it’s tough to pre-game.

While it’s possible to nurse a drink as an excuse not to wear a mask, someone looking not to wear one doesn’t need alcohol to do that. It’s just as easy to nurse a water or a can of pringles.

Indeed, here’s Senator Ted Cruz nursing a coffee without a mask.

If you do think that people are more likely to nurse a cocktail than a Starbucks, though, isn’t that just an argument for flight attendants offering shots?

Of course if we offered rapid testing – highly accurate, even if not to the extent of a PCR test but with results in 15 minutes – this would all be a non-issue since we’d be confident we weren’t traveling with others who had the virus. And with home strip tests, tied to an app, people could show their results daily and we’d be able to drink in bars, too. The primary obstacle to this isn’t technology, it’s the FDA.

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. The airlines should provide free alcohol on planes – 80% alcohol hand sanitizers, that is.

  2. Great arguments. And I agree the greatest risk with alcohol both in a plan and in other situations is bad behavior that leads to accidents.

  3. Why give her any attention? Summer is easily one of the worst at that terrible site.

    I had two vodka sodas in F the other week, flying back from my grandpa’s funeral. I would slide my mask down, take a sip, and then put my mask back on the second the cup left my lip. Crazy? Maybe a tad. But there I was consuming alcohol with my mask on more often than the teenage girl next to me taking selfies all flight

  4. @305 —> YOU are a well-behaved and conscientious passenger. (Taking a sip and re-masking in between sips.) AND you noticed the immature teen taking selfies next to you w/out a mask. While I commend you for re-masking, I admit I would have said something to the teen, and if that didn’t work, to the FA re: not wearing a mask…

  5. @Gary —> The dangers of catching/spreading Covid-19 are not contained within a 50ml bottle of Jack or Tito’s, etc. The dangers of catching/spreading Covid-19 lie in a) bad behavior of fellow passengers in not wearing their masks; b) FA’s who don’t wear masks; c) airlines that fill planes to capacity¹; and d) improper cleaning of the aircraft in between flights/overnight.

    THAT SAID, we all know that alcohol can affect people’s behavior², but I wasn’t aware that America had a caste system in place whereby — simply as a result of flying in F — one has earned (i.e.: paid) for the right to drink alcohol, whereas those in Y have not. I fail to understand that: either serve/sell alcohol to everyone of age who wants it, or ban it entirely from the flight.

    ¹ I recently flew SFO-PSP r/t on an AS E-175. One flight was practically full 85-90%); the other merely half.

    ² Limiting bad behavior stemming from alcohol consumption is *especially* easy during the time of Covid-19 when, as you rightly point out, it’s (nearly) impossible to buy a drink in airports currently. Simply make it a policy that — under current conditions — ALL pax can purchase ONE drink only. Period. Sure, some people will cheat (“I’ll have a single malt neat, and so will my wife” nudge, nudge; wink wink), but I believe that will be a relatively rare occurrence.

  6. You might also more from that post from TPG that she wears an N95 mask, another mask, and a face shield, so more protection than medical professionals, so you really need to take her opinions with a whole shaker of salt.

  7. I touch briefly on the bad behavior part with “caring less about everything once you’ve had a few drinks”, because you’re right, that’s a very relevant issue. As is the weird class system it sort of implies (even more than normal) between first and economy. Encouraging passengers to have their masks off any longer than what would be needed to stay hydrated and fed (especially on longer flights when those are actual needs) is just bizarre in a pandemic.

    As long as there’s a flying bar in first, you’ll probably find me toward back of the flying bus with my face shield, N95 mask, Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer on my next flight. 😉

  8. Stvr. – agreed. Dr. Fauci recommends masks, but Gary clearly knows better. Drinking poison and transmitting Covid on a flight is a solid health choice.

  9. Unfortunately, as a frequent flyer, I have to agree with the points guy. A simple quote from the article sums it up “What people need to keep in mind is that air travel during this time isn’t luxury” As someone in the health care profession, I will state this simply, removing a mask puts others at some increased level of risk. Unfortunately, Gary, you failed to acknowledge that fact.

    In addition, you justifying that its ok “since people drink coffee” is not only not proof (you cannot justify a problem by state well we have other problems so we can ignore this one) but an absolute misrepresentation of what occurred. American Airlines reaches out to remind Sen. Ted Cruz about face mask use amid the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore you just proved that point you tried to diprove.

    The rule in medicine is to reduce the risk as much as possible. If someone cannot go on a plane and sit for a few hours without alcohol then perhaps not wearing a mask is not their biggest problem.

  10. You can worship at the feet of Fauci if you wish. But he is not the end all be all on the subject. He just happens to get the most air time.

  11. ” A simple quote from the article sums it up “What people need to keep in mind is that air travel during this time isn’t luxury” ”

    Ah the control freaks are at it again. It’s not anyone’s business why I or others fly. You don’t get to control that. Excuse me now as I will be boarding a longhaul back to the US soon. A trip done totally for my pleasure, to reconnect with some friends. And yes, I do intend to consume some adult beverages on both legs.

  12. David – I’m pretty sure more than a single doctor recommends masking. Wait until you see how poorly the US distributes the vaccine (and how long-lived the immunity really is) before you throw in the towel on masking as an infection control strategy.

  13. @Andrew —> “Drinking poison and transmitting Covid on a flight is a solid health choice.” One hopes this was a sarcastic comment, but referring to wine/beer/sprits as poison is just as much BS as is saying “I don’t need to wear a mask, for Jesus will protect me!”

    If you want to speak of the dangers of drinking, that’s crap. But if you want to talk of the dangers of alcohol ABUSE, I’m right there with you.

    BTW, I generally don’t drink hard alcohol (distillates) on airplanes because a) it’s too dehydrating, and b) the quality of most onboard alcohol rarely appeals to me — unless I’m flying in F on a transoceanic flight. Beer pretty much falls in the same restrictions, except I can’t ever remember having a been in F…or even in J. Now, wine falls into another category but, again to generalize, only on non-US airlines on international flights — for the most part, I find the quality better than on US carriers. (Though I readily will confess that spending 50 years in the wine trade has played a role in making that judgement.)

  14. I agree with you @Gary. Everyone else commenting that you shouldn’t be allowed to drink, did not address the fact that they are serving drinks in First. I usually have 1 drink on a flight. Just one, but I like to have that one drink. So, instead I get a water. Made no difference what I was drinking. People arguing that some person might misbehave (not wear their mask, I guess?) afer drinking are missing the big picture. Some people get in a car and speed – they might cause a wreck. We don’t say because of that no one can drive a car. Personal responsibility is what it is all about. And airlines could limit drinks to 2 or 1 or 3, but to serve alcohol in First and not in economy is beyond stupid.

  15. @David —> First of all, I do not know of any responsible infectious disease specialist, public health doctor, or medical professional who suggests masks are unnecessary. Well, OK, there are two:

    1) President Trump abruptly ended a tense press conference at the White House on Tuesday, after he defended Houston Dr. Stella Immanuel as a “very impressive” for touting hydroxychloroquine — just hours after Twitter deleted the president’s retweet of a video featuring Immanuel speaking about the drug.

    On Monday, Trump retweeted the viral video, which included several doctors, including Immanuel. Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook removed the video after millions viewed it. In the video, Immanuel insists, “Nobody needs to get sick. … This virus has a cure.” Doctors in the video also suggest that schools don’t need to remain closed.

    Immanuel adds in the video that no one needs to wear protective masks, contradicting current scientific and media orthodoxy — Fox News, July 28, 2020.

    b) “[Dr. Scott] Atlas, a neuroradiologist by training with no background in treating infectious diseases, joined the president’s medical advisory staff last month. Before doing so, he made frequent appearances on Fox News, where he often cast doubt on the efficacy of wearing masks and pushed for schools to reopen with in-person learning – positions in line with Trump’s own public sentiments.

    “A group of 78 researchers and doctors from Stanford Medical School took aim this week at Dr. Scott Atlas, the expert President Donald Trump recently added to the White House pandemic response task force, for embracing and peddling what they described as “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” in his public musings about the coronavirus.” — ABC News, September 10, 2020.

    Secondly, speaking of BS and the “this here’s America, goddammit, and ain’t no one telling me what I can or can’t do!” school of thought…do you drive a car? Did you have to get a driver license? auto insurance? Do you wear a seatbelt? This is NOT an issue of personal freedom. It is an issue of common sense, self-preservation, and respect for your fellow human beings on the planet. I fear you may be lacking in these departments or, perhaps merely you merely have a lack of empathy when it comes to your fellow citizens of Earth that suggests some more serious issue. (I apologize in advance: I can’t help that; my father was a psychoanalyst, and somewhere in the house is his copy of the DSM-4).

  16. Eh, no problem ordering a double vodka and ginger ale on my 0630 Allegiant flight from Punta Gorda yesterday. I was the odd man out though, everyone around me seemed to be ordering Bloody Marys. Bag of Doritos, and I was set for breakfast.

  17. …and then there was the case of the Kansas Attorney General, accompanied by several officers of the Kansas Highway Patrol, who — back in the 1970s — arrested the flight attendants coming off an LAX-JFK flight for allegedly serving an alcoholic beverage in the skies over a DRY county in his state!

    True story, and as George Takei is known for saying, “Oh, my!”

  18. You cannot get alcohol in hotels(or food) or sky club in SFO they are totally nuts with this… 2 weeks ago you could not eat food in the sky club u had to take it to go!!!! Now u can have some food given to you by an employee and eat it in the club but no Bar service even water has to be asked for and given to you via an employee NUTS and then some!!crazy left wing overkill ON FIRE CALIF

  19. The summer broad on the other site is traveling for fun… so she clearly doesn’t gove a crap about anyone else’s health with her own logic.

  20. Here in Australia the airlines have all cut in flight beverages for most domestic routes – only water available. Even if you are flying between two states with no active cases of the virus. The changes have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with saving money for the airlines.

    Fortunately mask wearing was never mandatory on flights as the incidence of cases was too low for it to have widespread support (and it doesn’t save the airlines any money).

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