A Drinker’s Guide To Flying: The Plane is Now at Boozing Altitude

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Flight—a physics defying anomaly. Once thought just for the birds, what a historic bully when Orville and Wilbur Wright first made flying machines fit for humans possible in 1903. If only then the Wright brothers could have prophesized today’s snaking airport security lines leading to vacuous TSA agents with billy club security wands. Droning words of instruction: “take your laptops and other electronic devices out…shoes off…no liquids.” Forcing your painstakingly packed carry-on into one of those obnoxious 9” x 14” x 22” metal luggage measurers…

The whole sordid affair—from setting foot inside a terminal to the part when everyone, even the most seasoned flyer prays this bad boy jet engine gets us up off the ground—primes passengers for a well-deserved nip. And when I say, “nip,” I mean those cute 50 ml bottles of alcohol otherwise known as airplane mini bottles.

As with George Clooney’s seasoned commuter character from Up in the Air, mastering the art of mile-high drinking can help minimize the headache (in the short run) and cost of the whole flying experience. Here are a few world-wizened tips to help you fully indulge in the nips you’ve so rightfully earned.

The Airport Lounge


A safe place away from the hubbub, airport lounges offer a welcomed respite from the headache of having to snag a free seat, keep that seat, watch your luggage, grab a snack, and find an available outlet for your charger. Frequent travelers with elite airline status skate through the sliding doors of these private oases like they own them, but let it be known, for around $50.00 you too can load up on house wine, beer and mixed nuts to your hearts content, or until boarding call.

American Airlines allows the purchase of an Admirals Club One-Day pass directly at the club counter. Honestly, it just makes good financial sense to foot the $50.00 when faced with long waits and delayed departures. The pass is also available on the AA.com website as well as the app, but the electronic alternative requires 6 to 12 hours for purchase confirmation, so best to go about it the old fashioned way. Other airlines offer similar incentives.

The Gate as Your Living Room

Nashville International Airport recently announced that it acquired its own autonomous beer and liquor license separate of the bars and restaurants it houses. For the flyer, this means rather than having to cram onto a narrow TGI Fridays barstool, or worse yet, stand in that awkward no man’s land between dining table and bar, you can take a roadie, or in this instance an “airie,” to go. Just leave the cup behind before you approach the ticket agent. The FAA enforces a policy preventing alcohol to be brought inside the aircraft.

Once through security, the convenience takes effect and it opens up endless possibilities including thumbing through US Weekly at the newsstand while gingerly enjoying a stiff one. Nashville International isn’t alone in this undertaking.

Height Heightened Intoxication

When it comes to tippling above the clouds, everyone and their grandma has a theory about how altitude impacts tolerance. Callie Routon, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, says during training she learned to abide by the standard, one drink on the ground equals three in the air. But, according to the team behind the popular Discovery show Mythbusters, a person’s blood alcohol level is not impacted by altitude at all.

“What contributes to the misconception that one drink in the air is equal to three on land, could be due to the on-board effect of hypoxia,” says Mythbuster alcohol expert Dr. Bhushan Kapur. Hypoxia is a fancy term for “lack of oxygen.” So, if you begin feeling three sheets to the wind, just pull down that oxygen mask above you… no, don’t do that. But do exhibit caution when consuming alcohol at 35,000 feet. You may not fret over being close to seven miles up, but you probably should concern yourself with the importance of breathing.

Cash or Credit

If you plan to partake of spirits onboard your flight, determine in advance whether the airline accepts cash or credit. It’s one or the other, never both. Complimentary items begin and end with peanuts, pretzels and pop. The average adult beverage costs $7.00, compliments of your wallet.

Callie at Southwest says, “Most airlines have gone to credit. Cash is too hard to keep up with and frankly makes it too easy for flight attendants to take home.” So, have your card on hand. With hundreds of heads to serve, the last thing a flight attendant wants to do is wait for you to bumble for your bag in the overhead.

Don’t Get Fancy

Flight attendants aren’t bartenders and even if they do know the difference between a Sloe Gin Rickey and a Sidecar, not shockingly, they don’t have the tools or ingredients to make them. Birgit, a 25-year-veteran attendant from Germany, works the first class section of international American Airlines flights. She says she made a White Russian once for a passenger, but that’s about as complicated as she dares go.

Stick to two basic ingredients, rum and cokes or gin and tonics are tuff to screw up. And most importantly, be nice. “When passengers are ordering a drink, the main thing I appreciate is eye contact. I hate when someone can’t look up from their stupid game to order,” says Callie. Though aircraft crew are advised not to accept tips, “Good passengers know how to slip it to the flight attendants so that we can’t say ‘No’,” she says. Suddenly, you’re building a scaled down replica of the Empire State Building with your mini-bottles on the house.

Nobody Likes A Lush

The New York Post ran a story last year, accompanied by a disturbing picture of a man duct taped to his seat on a flight bound to New York from Iceland. Seems he purchased his allotment of duty free liquor—on international routes, individual passengers can buy a maximum of one liter—and proceeded to guzzle it gone. No matter how much anxiety you harbor when it comes to flying, don’t, not under any condition, end up in the Post as a laughing stock. Flight attendants won’t think twice about confiscating those untaxed onboard purchases.