For some, February 16, 2022, might have as much impact as December 5, 1933. The latter date marks the end of Prohibition in the United States. February 16, 2022, is the date that Southwest Airlines will return to serving alcohol on board its aircraft.
What Southwest described as a two-year “pause” of its full menu of on-board beverage choices (including beer, wine, and liquor) will end on February 16. The decision seems to have been brewing for a while, particularly as the number of unruly passenger reports has declined 50% in 2o22.
“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,” said Tony Roach, Vice President Customer Experience and Customer Relations.
(Full disclosure: I own stock in Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue.).
So, booze is back! On February 16, the airline will restore alcohol beverages for on-board purchase. Passengers will be able to purchase beers like Miller Lite ($6), Blue Moon ($7) and Lagunitas IPA ($7). Those who prefer the grape can choose between sparkling wine ($6), chardonnay ($6), and cabernet sauvignon ($6).
The harder stuff will be available as well, including Wild Turkey ($7) a favorite of the late, beloved co-founder of Southwest, Herb Kelleher. Southwest will also offer vodka ($7), lime vodka ($7), Jack Daniels ($7), Wild Turkey ($7), Bacardi Rum ($7), and Tequila ($7).
While Southwest is falling off the wagon, the policy of not serving alcohol in coach on American and JetBlue remains in place. JetBlue said simply, “We are not serving alcohol in core at this time.” [Core is the JetBlue term for coach or economy class.]
American supplied this statement: “We haven’t established a specific date for the return of onboard alcohol in the main cabin of our aircrafts. We will continue to evaluate the situation and work closely with the union that represents our flight attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, and medical experts on this process to determine when we will return to full service in the main cabin.”
The policies of other airlines differ. As an Alaska Airlines spokesperson put it last year, “We still serve alcohol onboard and don’t have any plans to change our current service levels.” Hawaiian Airlines returned to serving alcohol last summer, allowing guests to “enjoy a complimentary Koloa Rum Punch drink and purchase other assorted beverages.” And while its coach ban continues American serves alcohol in First and Business Class.
Southwest’s announcement was brief and did not discuss the rationale for the return of on-board alcohol. However, it is worth noting that the Federal Aviation Agency’s mask mandate is currently in place until March 18, 2022. So, the airline is returning to serving alcohol more than a month before the end of the mask mandate, which has been extended numerous times. A key reason alcohol has been curtailed on airlines has been because of it has been perceived to fuel confrontations over on-board masking.
According to the FAA, 2021 was the worst year on record for unruly airplane passengers in the US, with 5,981 reports of unruly passengers as of December 31. And 4,290 of these incidents (72%) have been mask related. Some of the worst airline incidents of 2021 are recounted here.
While the correlation is not as clear, suffice to say that the mask mandate and alcohol have not been a match made in heaven. When alcohol was involved, often the passenger consumed it at airport bars or elsewhere, rather than on the aircraft.
As for mid-air confrontations between flight attendants and passengers, “Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in August. “The FAA requests that airports work with their concessionaires to help avoid this.”
But the good news is that unruly passenger incidents appear to have spiked in early 2021 and have since dropped 50%, a trend that appears to be continuing into 2022.
For non-tipplers, Southwest has also expanded its offerings of free non-alcoholic drinks. On flights of 176 miles or more, Southwest will now be adding tonic water, (ok, good for a gin and tonic) apple juice, Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, hot tea, and hot cocoa. These beverages will join Southwest’s current offering of Coke, Diet Coke, 7 Up, water, ginger ale, seltzer water, orange juice, cranberry cocktail juice, and coffee.
As for those who do feel like an on-board drink after two years of COVID-19, Southwest has a surprise for Rapid Rewards and other passengers who have held onto their free drink coupons. “Customers may redeem any Southwest Drink Coupon that was set to expire in 2020 or 2021 for an alcohol beverage through Dec. 31, 2022.”