Alcohol consumption has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic with retail sales of gin alone rising over 42 per cent in the U.S. since the start of the crisis. It seems like during these truly exceptional times American’s are keener than ever to enjoy their favourite beverage. But for airline passengers, new rules to minimise contact with flight attendants mean many carriers have cut back alcohol service – a major obstacle if you want a stress-relieving drink.
Federal laws may well prohibit passengers drinking their own alcohol onboard a flight but that isn’t stopping some people who have taken to smuggling onboard their own liquor. Now both United Airlines and Southwest have had enough.
In a recent memo, United’s flight attendants have been reminded that passengers cannot drink their own alcohol “under any circumstances”. The same federal regulations that existed for the Corona crisis remain in force – only alcohol that has been served by a flight attendant can be consumed onboard.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the company to reconsider the services provided on the aircraft as a means of minimizing the touchpoints between Flight Attendants and passengers,” an email from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) sent to United’s onboard crew explains.
“These health precautions have curtailed several service options on many of our flights, including the offering of a variety of choices in alcoholic beverage options. With this reduction in service some passengers have developed a misunderstanding that, in place of what is offered for sale onboard, they can simply bring their own supply onboard.”
United is asking flight attendants to deal with issues on a case by case basis but Southwest is going one step further in its war on BYO alcohol. Last week, the Dallas-based airline amended its in-flight safety announcement with a line specifically addressing the issue.
In a memo to flight attendants, Southwest’s head of in-flight safety Kari Kriesel said most airlines were “noticing the same challenges.” And American Airlines spokesperson confirms that they have also noticed a rise in BYO alcohol consumption on its flights.
On Southwest, once passengers have been given the usual safety talk, they’ll then be told that it is “prohibited to consume alcohol that you’ve brought.” Flight attendants are instructed to use their “hospitality” to remind passengers of the rules should they then be flouted.
Luckily, the rules only apply to open alcohol containers meaning that if caught, passengers will be allowed to keep drinks that are still sealed.
United is now serving alcohol on most flights but the selection has been cut back to keep the service as quick as possible. Single-serve bottles of wine, beer and liquor are available in premium cabins on all flights, while complimentary beer and wine are available in Economy on international services.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.