After almost two years, Southwest Airlines is finally bringing back alcoholic beverages to its inflight service, the airline’s head of customer experience said on Thursday in a surprise announcement.
Only last week, the Dallas-based carrier claimed that onboard booze wouldn’t be making a return until late March or early April but Southwest has had a change of heart and now intends to resume alcohol service from February 16.
Alcoholic beverages were originally pulled in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic as Southwest desperately looked to eliminate as many touchpoints as possible. The airline hoped to resume its full drinks service in June 2021 but managers quickly shelved those plans when a flight attendant was subjected to a brutal assault.
Southwest’s flight attendant union has been fighting the return of inflight alcoholic beverages over fears that it could result in more rowdy and unruly behavior by drunk passengers. The TWU Local 556 union has repeatedly urged Southwest to do more to protect flight attendants, including limiting passenger access to alcohol.
Alcohol abuse has been cited as one of the main factors behind a pandemic-related surge in unruly passenger behavior but disruptive incidents have continued even with Southwest’s alcohol ban. Some passengers are getting takeaway alcohol from airport bars or smuggling their own booze onboard.
Meanwhile, most other U.S. airlines have successfully reintroduced inflight alcohol without any increase in unruly passenger behavior.
“Customers have expressed a desire for more beverage options, so we’re delighted to restore additional on-board offerings as a part of the Southwest Hospitality that our Customers know and love,” commented Tony Roach, Southwest’s Vice President Customer Experience and Customer Relations.
And for customers in receipt of drink coupons they haven’t been able to use for the past two years, Southwest is extending the validity of vouchers that were set to expire in 2020 or 2021 through to the end of 2022.
Southwest had originally suggested the alcohol ban might remain in force for as long as the federal face mask mandate is in existence. The mandate was introduced in January 2021 but has been extended several times and isn’t now due to expire until March 18, 2022. It is, however, likely to be extended at least once more.
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.