United Airlines Is Resuming Inflight Liquor Sales

Meanwhile, other U.S. carriers are reminding passengers it's still against regulations to bring and consume their own alcohol onboard.

I've had two international flights on American Airlines in the past week-plus and was surprised to hear several new sentences during the captain's in-flight announcement. In addition to politely reminding all passengers that they needed to wear a mask for the duration of the flight, she added that "federal regulations" prohibited passengers from drinking their own personal booze stash onboard the aircraft.

According to the Washington Post, both American and JetBlue updated their pre-flight announcements at the end of September to include that new-to-me part about "personal alcohol." Delta also tells passengers that any alcohol that isn't served by the flight crew is a big federal no-no, Frontier has "flagged the issue," and Southwest has given its flight attendants the OK to make similar announcements if the situation requires it.

Couple enjoying alcoholic beverages on a flight
Colorblind Images / Getty Images

Those reminders have become a necessity, since many of the major domestic carriers have temporarily stopped serving liquor during flights, citing an increase in unruly (and even violent) passenger behavior. Both American and Southwest have said that they will not be resuming hard alcohol sales until January 2022, at the earliest. "We are doing all we can to help create a safe environment for our crew and customers onboard our aircraft," American wrote in a letter that was sent to its flight crew earlier this year.

United, though, has decided to bring the booze back: on Monday, it started selling single-serve bottles of liquor on flights of at least 301 miles in on its domestic, Canadian, and Latin American routes. The Points Guy reports that flight attendants "have been instructed" to sell only one mini-bottle to passengers during each beverage service.

"Our decision to bring back liquor was heavily informed by feedback from both our customers and employees," a United spokesperson told the outlet. "The incidence of unruly passengers is very low compared to our number of customers overall and is also low in comparison to what other U.S. carriers are seeing. With travel demand on the rise and the many safety protocols we have in place, particularly with our suite of contactless payment solutions, now felt like the right time to expand our inflight beverage menu."

United's now-available liquor options include Bacardi Rum, Bailey's Irish Cream, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Dewar's White Label Scotch, Glenfarclas 12-Year Scotch, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, and Wheatley Craft-Distilled Vodka. Prices range from $9 to $10 per bottle, depending on the selection.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), flight crews have reported over 5,110 incidents involving unruly passengers since January 1. Just last week, the FAA announced fines totaling $225,287 had been issued to 10 passengers who became violent during flight, including a $32,000 penalty that a Horizon Air passenger will have to pay because of her aggressive, physically violent behavior during a flight to San Francisco. In addition to hitting her husband and son, she also "threw trash at a flight attendant, and snatched cookies from a nearby passenger."

In August, the FAA wrote to airport leaders asking them to stop allowing their bars and restaurants to serve alcohol-to-go. Their efforts seem to be working (and those high-dollar fines probably don't hurt). "The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped sharply since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign but the rate remains too high," the agency wrote last week.

If everyone can behave themselves, maybe additional carriers will follow United's lead. I mean, who doesn't want to pay $10 for 1.7 ounces of Irish cream?

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