While Airlines Aren’t Serving Booze On Board They’ve Got A New Problem: Passengers Bringing Their Own

Airlines have stopped serving alcohol in coach (and in some cases first class) both as a cost saving measure and to limit interaction between passengers and flight attendants. They don’t want to have flight attendants processing purchase transactions (but some carriers also got rid of alcohol for passengers who would have been entitled to their drinks free).

Southwest Airlines – along with other carriers – has noticed an increase in passengers treating flights as ‘BYO’ and drinking their own mini bottles they bring through security while on board. As a result, the largest carrier of U.S. domestic passengers is introducing an addition to its inflight safety announcement about the practice.

After passengers are reminded about no smoking, using electronic cigarettes or tampering with the smoke detector in the lavatory, flight attendants will announce: “It is also prohibited to consume alcohol that you’ve brought.”

Kriesel’s memo attributed the increase in passengers bringing their own alcoholic drinks on board to the lack of in-flight drink sales and availability of alcohol in airports during the pandemic.

…”While there is information on Southwest.com and announcements are made in the gate area, some customers may not know about this regulation that prohibits them from consuming their own alcohol,” Kriesel said in the memo.

This isn’t actually a new problem, a Southwest Airlines flight had to divert when passengers refused crewmember instrustrions to stop drinking their own booze.

At the Austin airport, and at several other airports, you can get beer to go during normal times. Of course there are far fewer concessions open right now. So instead of buying the beer to go in the airport passengers are bringing their own mini bottles from home.

Alcohol usually has a lot to do with passengers behaving badly stories and the stories about passengers bringing their own never end well. And pseudo-celebrities aren’t exempt. Usually passengers are more discrete than this, carrying a giant beer through Washington Dulles:

But Southwest Airlines not serving booze at all – that just underscores the damage the pandemic has caused. Southwest Airlines started giving out ‘to go’ bottles to full fare customers just prior to airline deregulation when they had to start competing with Texas International Airlines and Braniff who were newly allowed to offer cheap fares between Houston and Dellas. Southwest became the largest liquor distributor in Texas in 1977.

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 customers can’t get any on board today – and can’t even drink their own.

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. Not all airlines prohibit this. JetBlue lets you bring wine or booze aboard. They just require a flight attendant to pour it for you. I believe American allows it too. Delta doesn’t to my knowledge have a policy as I’ve never been able to get a straight answer but I know there are plenty of people who pour wine into their Yetti mug and sip it on the plane.

  2. Egypt’s airline also lets you bring booze aboard. The airline from Brunei does too.

  3. It’s amazing how far ahead VX was with their seat-back ordering system. Would have been a boon right now for limiting interaction.

    I feel like other airline could easily put a menu in an app too if they wanted to limit having to pass CCs back and forth.

  4. Anyone over the age of 26 who drinks booze anywhere other than a social event is a clown with net negative value to society

  5. As long as it’s not a group wanting to party.
    It’s better to let an alcoholic BYO than getting stuck next to them on a long flight or worse a long delay. It’s a disease like smoking or obesity.

  6. @Jason

    Your comments are worthless. “Go back to wherever you came from” works for you too!

  7. How idiotic is this. To solve the problem start selling alcohol again. Paying customers are sick and tired of the stupid games the airlines are playing using the coronavirus as an excuse.

  8. Its been alright for a passenger to purchase alcohol on a flight in the past to drink, ie revenue. But, because of covid 19 that same passenger cannot take, and pour there own drink, ie no revenue. It sounds to.me that the airlines are just pissed about losing money. So, I guess I’ll take two or three of those little bottles with me to te airport, and drink them before I board. It’s not the best alternative, but the other, which is nothing, is ridicuous.

  9. Question: Does it have to be on the same flight? Or, can it be from the same airline that you got prior to the pandemic?

    Just asking for a friend.

  10. Interesting comments, and sad too in some ways.
    Anyone surprised by this really doesn’t understand their fellow humans very well.

    A lot of folk on aircraft are on a get away, They want to celebrate it with a drink.

    Business? For many years I had extremely stressful jobs. Although it isn’t my drink of choice, a Bloody Mary told me I was on vacation. So… wheels up on a fun trip, I would enjoy a Bloody Mary.

    Two years in a row (2017, 2018) I had over 600,000 miles, mostly long-haul international. I can say candidly that I cherished those long-haul flights when my ‘phone couldn’t ring, and shamelessly enjoyed the fine wines that Cathay, Emirates and occasionally AA would offer.

    Apologies to those with a stick up their ass….

    PS: Today, why pay for a premium experience when the premium bit has disappeared?

  11. @Jason
    I’m having a beer right now outside on my patio. I’m over 26 (way over) and by myself. In what possible way am I affecting society, either negatively or positively?

  12. Son of a B…
    I’m one of those sick n tired of airlines blaming Corona and justified cost cutting because you know…when those alcohol bottles come out, the covid comes with it. LOL. What a joke. They can say that over the PA all they want, I either won’t fly them or I’ll do it anyway because like the other commenter I have a stressful job and when I’m wheels up on vacation I want to celebrate a little and let go. I think we all need to just chill every once in a while. The day I see a med journal about how covid is spread on planes by offering alcohol to pax willing to pay or free booze to pax in J who pay $2k+ for a premium ticket is the day I’ll stop flying
    Does nobody any benefit except piss them off that these airlines are cutting back premium service so much

  13. In the not so distant past, the sales of alcoholic beverages compensated the overall expenses of the “free” soft drinks and light snacks. I suspect it’s NOT a cost cutting measure for the company but one brought on by flight attendant unions . . . in an attempt to placate those overly concerned of a “safe” workplace and out of “an abundance of caution.”
    The race to the bottom continues. “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

  14. No one’s going to stop me from having a drink on a plane. I just mix it up in a bottle of soda or juice before I board. A long plane ride with a bunch of cowardly covidiots and their screaming crotch droppings REQUIRES some booze. Even better if flying from a state with legal THC edibles!

  15. @Tim
    Actually, Jason is a trumper troll who regularly says this kind of thing just to get peoples reaction.
    I will continue to bring my own little bottles of booze on board and drink it in a stealth manner.

  16. @WileyDog, I am not a Trumper or a troll. I am a distinguished professor of biochemistry at a flagship state university. I am registered DEM and plan to vote for Biden. Should you flout the law as you brag in your post, I urge you to go to hell.

  17. I really don’t understand why they haven’t found a way to serve alcohol. I don’t know how they save money (cost saving measure, as you said). Most charge $5-8 for a drink. Contactless payment would be a work around or having you purchase drink coupons online, printing them, and brining them aboard – something. I was pretty aggravated on my last flight (which took 12 hours because of all of the covid related flight changes). While we were given a can of water, I watched the FA drink coffee and have ginger ale – community coffee and the ginger ale SW serves. Clearly they loaded coffee and other drinks for them, so why not the passengers.

    I wear a mask, I wash and sanitize my hands, I understand about the virus – so I’m not saying we don’t have to take some extreme measures but clearly we could have a choice of drinks.

  18. Sometimes reading these are really entertaining! I think the alcohol ban is nothing more than an attempt to save money and flight attendants to do even less. I have a friend who is a F/A and she tells me that they still cater alcohol on flights but don’t serve it. I assume that is a contractual agreement with a cater. But where does the booze go? I also think all of this hysteria over COVID is just nonsense. It’s the flu, and a mild case. The numbers are fudged to allow federal money to flow to the medical industry. I can see no way forward for the federal government to ever pay off the debt.

  19. On American Airlines you can ask for a drink and get one, except you can’t get served alcohol in coach. I have a friend who is a AA Flight Attendant with around 30 years service. She tells her passengers that she can’t offer them something to drink but she can serve them if they ask for something. How stupid of a company policy is that? Now the newbie flight attendant’s are reporting her for telling passengers that they can indeed have something to drink it they just ask for it. They don’t want passengers asking for anything so that they can sit on their butts and do nothing.

    She asked me to post this as she wants AA to survive and believes that passengers should at least receive some service. She is awaiting her disciplinary hearing and what her punishment will be. Shame on AA!

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