As Passenger Behavior Declines, Airlines Delay Resuming Alcohol Sales


The past weekend saw Southwest and American Airlines decide to delay their decisions to resume serving alcohol on flights. The decisions stem from a continued increase in incidents involving disruptive passengers. FAA reports for 2021 show that, as of May 24, there were roughly 2,500 reported incidents of “unruly behavior” by passengers. Some 1,900 of those involved people refusing to comply with a federal mandate to properly wear face masks.

On May 23, a 28-year-old woman on a Southwest flight from Sacramento to San Diego, California, punched a flight attendant, knocking out two teeth. Southwest has banned the passenger. In a letter to Southwest President Gary Kelly, Lyn Montgomery, president of the local chapter of the flight attendants’ union wrote, in part:

“Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined.

“We ask for your help in directing Management to support Flight Attendants as they work to maintain order on the aircraft by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment, you can surely understand our concern.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Is it me or is the country getting a bit more weird than usual? Passengers acting out, state legislatures passing laws restricting voting, and mass shootings occurring more frequently than I can remember, people embracing conspiracy theories and willing to overthrow the government violently, and that contingent of folks who somehow think that vaccines are worse than an illness which has killed millions and injured and debilitated millions more. And of course when the unvaccinated get ill they expect to be provided expensive medical care. I dunno…

    • > Is it me

      It’s not just you – you’re trapped in a leftist media bubble along with half the country.

      Everything you said is the opposite of true.

    • It’s you. There are no voting restriction laws, shootings only went up because of allowing riots, there was no armed attempt at a government takeover, vaccines were not tested per FDA guidelines, millions in the USA did not die, and US citizens with medical insurance should expect medical care that they paid for.

      I think it’s sad that people swallow stories from news outlets that have to make a profit and politicians that need to sell propaganda that divides people.

  2. According to this article over 70% of the disruptions are due to enforcement of face coverings. Although I could care less about alcohol service on airline rides, the 70% solution looks easy to me.

    • Agreed.

      Want to bring out the bad side of any given person? Piss them off with a nonsense regulation like face covering. In case that’s not enough give the susceptible ones alcohol and you’ll achieve your goal.

      I don’t drink and I hate being around drunks and I don’t believe being drunk on a plane is a right so to limit or eliminate drinking on airliners makes sense from my point of view and I don’t object to that. I suspect the airlines will continue it because of the money.

  3. ‘As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment, you can surely understand our concern.”

    Not really, unless you’re wiling to talk about the elephant in the cabin. How many broken teeth, injuries and trauma to flight crews and passengers will it take to admit selling booze makes them beaucoup dollars? Beat up crews and passengers are just corporate collateral damage, evidently. Anti-maskers are only the latest group of losers who can’t see beyond their own cowling. Others will follow.

    The wife is a corporate auditor for a major drug/pharmacy. When they decided seven years ago to no longer sell any tobacco products in their retail stores they lost hard money and sales across the board. But it was the right thing to do for them in the long view. I would love to see booze on airliners go the way of tobacco products that were eliminated many years ago on people tubes. There’s always sleeping pills, antihistamines, prescription drugs, Reading or working, cloud counting – many ways to get through the pain of travelling with your fellow brothers and sisters.

    We need one airline with the balls to step up and lead the way to protect their flight crews and paying passengers instead of their bottom line.

  4. Let’s have a sensible caption!
    1. no retail sales of alcohol, in bars or shops.
    2. Duty free sales on arrival only, or buy for pick-up at destination.
    3. No carriage of alcohol in cabin baggage.
    4. Strong deterrence through heavy fines / imprisonment.
    5. Improve messaging regarding passenger responsibility!

  5. Alcohol – fueling bad behavior since prehistory! Acting responsibly includes drinking responsibly.

  6. It seems to me that it’s always the few who “ruin” it for the many, across many domains of behavior. And when regulations are introduced, those few are the first to pull the typical response of a four year old who is being taught something: ‘It’s not fair!”, or “It’s your fault!” or, “I don’t love you. You’re bad”.
    As long as our society tolerates impaired decision making in adults, all of us will continue to suffer the consequences.

  7. Airlines have increasingly de- humanized the airline travel experience. Why is it a surprise that people are now acting more like animals?

  8. I believe in zero tolerance for these passengers who defy or assault any crew member. They should be placed on the no fly list indefinitely. Let them drive or take a bus.

  9. FAA, TSA & Airlines are as culpable as passengers in this. From the moment you park your car you’re treated like cattle. Some breeze through TSA & some get cavity searched with no appear at logic applied. The mask requirement is truly asinine given that when finally seated there are usually eight strangers in a 36 square foot area rebreathing the same air for hours. A Leslie Neilson style “full-body” condom is required in this environment. Emotional support chickens and passengers that can’t be bothered to shower and dress in other than last nights pajamas cap off this privilege. Airlines continue to reduce seat pitch but passengers are getting bigger?Flight attendants seem to enjoy repeating the same announcement about “non-compliance” (my recent Delta Minneapolis crew experience). Bloated carry-ons that don’t fit in overhead bins. Extra charges for seats?
    There is an opportunity here for an entrepreneurial carrier to position themselves somewhere between Ryanair and NetJets.

    • You don’t “re-breathe” the same air for hours. The air in the cabin is refreshed about every 3 minutes.

      • So for 3 minutes I have to breath contaminated air? How long does it take to inhale germs or a virus? By the way, on a B737-800 or 777-200 or MD-80 you do not have the time right, it is much longer.

      • THREE MINUTES!!! Ughhhhhh
        Are you kidding – you can smell your seat mate’s fart for 3 minutes??
        Now, realistically, a CONTINUOUS FLOW of fresh air flows from the overhead to the floor – go to an Airline jet transport ground school & find out the facts!

    • Please John,let me inform you that airline cabins DO NOT RECIRCULATE AIR!
      Air enters the cabin from above & leaves at floor level in a steady flow.
      I hear many comments about air in cabins, but, attending airline ground schools
      is a sure way to to get how cabin air flows.

      If someone has evidence to Dispute what I said here, PLEASE copy & paste it from
      a Boeing, Airbus, or any other transport operating manual.
      Hopefully we can bring this subject to closure.

  10. As an addition to my above comment, passengers need to be informed and they need to understand that these mask requirements are not coming from the airline, but from the DOT. They need to accept this if they are going to fly on an any commercial air carrier.

    • Not accurate. The airlines started with the mask requirement on their own when the Trump administration refused to do so. Once Biden’s people were in office they just enacted what the airline employees unions wanted.

  11. Place disruptive passengers permanently on the “Do Not Fly List”. Let them “Go Greyhound” next time where they belong. Now. please bring me a vodka tonic with lime. Thank you.

  12. I don’t care if a passenger likes masks or not. Not a prerogative. If, before boarding you are told you will be required to fly the entire flight standing on one leg, you now know the rule, and if you board the flight you will be expected to comply. Flying is optional. Obeying rules is not…although many folks think otherwise.

    • It’s not that people are anti-authority, it’s that they are , by nature, anti- authoritarian. When rules are no longer logical then normal people have every right to question/oppose them.

  13. Too many people in a small area is a breeding ground and fuse for volatility. Just add alcohol to light the fuse.

    Airports are crowded, lines long because of security concerns, parking garages a long way from the terminals requiring boarding ground bound, wheeled people tubes in preparation for travel on aerial people tubes, after dealing with overcrowded highways systems feeding the modern, airline serviced airport. The infrastructure is what it is with few options for change.

    Airplanes are designed for 170lb people, including the seat size. According to the CDC figures, the average weight for men and women has grown 20% since 1960. The airline seats, cabin structure, and accommodations have not grown proportionately. The only thing that seems to have changed is the overhead bins. They have grown exponentially larger than any other component in the airplane. Of course, that means the average passenger will bring an equally, exponentially larger carry on/drag on bag to test the design limits of each bin. If you are behind them, you will share the experience as they attempt to stuff the proverbial 8 lbs into the equally proverbial 4lb overhead. The infrastructure is what it is with few options for change.

    While the average American has grown 20% since 1960, including eating more often during the day, the airlines have cut back or eliminated food consumption on airplanes. People are not happy when they must go a few hours without grazing on something. So many expect the drive up convenience aboard an airliner. Another factor for human volatility within the confines of an aerial people tube when convenience expectations are not met. The infrastructure is what it is with few options for change.

    Add a novel, global pandemic that forces evolving rules and regulations as it progresses to and through the US population that is used to and demands convenience, there is inevitable pushback. Social media combined with cell phones has made it convenient for everyone to express their opinions about anything, anywhere, and on any topic. And any perceived violation or any threat to one’s convenience regarding expression of that particular opinion is now cause for fighting. Any rule or regulation that defies or is in contradiction to convenience is now a civil rights challenge.

    I am surprised that it took the airlines this long to figure out alcohol is toxic to any potential for civility within the crowded confines of an airline cabin from a society that demands convenience above just about anything. The infrastructure is what it is with few options for change.

    • Not only is alcohol toxic but so are the size of some people. I once boarded a flight only to find my seat between two huge women who had already put the arm rests up and were infringing on the center seat by about 15 % on each side. I took one look at the situation as they stared at me, and I quietly turned around and walked back off the airplane. I went to the gate agent and explained I did not want to sit between these to hippo’s and to rebook me on the next flight. No problem. I waited about 2 hours and got another more comfortable flight.
      In my opinion and I am not putting large people down, but if you extend over into the next seat then you should have to pay an extra fee for the ability. Sitting between two huge sweating bodies pressed up against you for a few hours is asking way too much for anybody. Imagine if you will I had weighted in at say 300+ pounds and had to go. There was no room, no what?

  14. The General Public wants a cheap ride and they do not need a flying bar. If they want a cheap drink they let them fly First or Business Class. Coach should not get booze.
    Next all airlines should be members of the same data base where an unruly person is entered into it. There can be different levels for different offenses up to and including complete expulsion from flying on any US Civil airline for life. This would be an automatic function that would not even accept their reservation or payment for a ticket for any flight in the USA. After a few of these life expulsions are handed out maybe the unruly public will stop this totally unacceptable behavior.