The policy changes come after a passenger turned violent against an airline employee, and multiple incidents of travelers refusing to comply with face mask policies.

By Jelisa Castrodale
June 01, 2021
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Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that it has received roughly 2,500 reports of unruly behavior on domestic flights this year, the majority of which related to air travelers who refused to wear a still-mandatory face covering. The agency emphasized that it has a "zero-tolerance policy" for passengers who misbehave on an aircraft, and it said that it would be proposing civil penalties of up to $15,000 against five passengers who are accused of verbally or physically assaulting crew members who asked them to comply with federal regulations, including wearing a face mask. 

As a result of the increase in passengers behaving badly, both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have decided that they will not be resuming their alcoholic beverage service during flights—at least not yet. American started serving adult beverages in its domestic premium cabins on May 1, and it was scheduled to add alcohol back to the main cabin menu today, but that's been temporarily scrapped again. (First class and business class passengers can still get alcoholic drinks, but only in-flight; for now, there's no champagne while you're waiting on the runway.) 

Commercial airliner cabin.
Credit: enviromantic/Getty Images

"Flight attendants are on the front lines every day not only ensuring our customers' safety, but are also calming fears, answering questions, and enforcing policies like federally-required face masks," Brady Byrnes, managing director of flight service at American, wrote in a memo to the airline's flight attendants, according to CNN. "Over the past week we've seen some of these stressors create deeply disturbing situations on board aircraft [...] We also recognize that alcohol can contribute to atypical behavior from customers onboard and we owe it to our crew not to potentially exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers." 

Southwest had previously announced that it would start serving beer and wine on flights to and from Hawaii on June 24, and that it would resume selling beer, wine, vodka, and whisky on all flights over 251 miles on July 14. Those plans have been shelved for now; a Southwest spokesperson told CNBC that there was "no timetable" for the return of beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages. (The Dallas-based carrier doesn't have premium cabins.) 

Last weekend, a Southwest flight attendant lost two teeth after an out-of-control passenger punched her in the face during a flight from Sacramento to San Diego. According to the New York Times, a 28-year-old woman was charged with battery causing serious bodily injury and has also been banned from the airline for life. 

"We have just never seen anything like this," Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said of some passengers' behavior this year. "We've never seen it so bad." 

In a statement to The Points Guy, Delta said that it was making "no changes" to its inflight service at this time, and that it would continue to sell beer, wine, and cocktails during "most" domestic flights. 

American says that it will consider returning alcohol service to its flights on Monday, September 13—which is the same date that the federal face mask mandate expires.