If you were hoping Southwest Airlines would restore alcohol sales onboard this autumn, you will be disappointed. The Dallas-based carrier will not resume onboard alcohol sales until at least January 2022.
Southwest Airlines Extends Alcohol Ban Into 2022
In a memo sent to flight attendants by Randall Miller, Senior Manager of Inflight Operations, Southwest Airlines tied the return of alcohol to the lifting of the federal mask mandate, currently set to expire early next year:
“With the mask mandate being extended to January 18, 2022, there are no current plans to bring back alcohol prior to January 2022.”
This marks the second time alcohol sales have been pushed back on Southwest. After being the first carrier to eliminate all service onboard in March 2020 due to COVID-19 fears, the carrier announced it would bring back liquor sales in June 2021.
But due to an escalation in the incidence of onboard misbehavior by passengers, including an incident in which a passenger punched a flight attendant, breaking two of her teeth and causing other injuries, Southwest delayed the restoration of alcohol sales until fall.
At the time, a Southwest spokesperson explained:
“Given the recent uptick in industry-wide incidents of passenger disruptions in-flight, we have made the decision to pause the previously announced restart of alcohol service onboard. We realize this decision may be disappointing for some customers, but we feel this is the right decision at this time in the interest of the safety and comfort of all customers and crew on board.”
But when the Biden Administration ordered the federal mask mandate be extended into January 2022, the alcohol ban was extended.
Flight attendants contend that alcohol leads passengers to keep their masks off longer and become more combative onboard.
To that first point, Southwest will add orange juice, cranberry cocktail juice, ginger ale, seltzer water, and tonic water to its drink menu starting in next month. Currently, only Coca Cola, Diet Coke, 7UP, and water are available.
Miller attributed the additional beverages to pre-orders that could not be cancelled. All five additional drinks constitute mixers for alcoholic cocktails.
“With our original timeline to return alcohol service, we needed to proactively source seltzer and tonic water to ensure availability. Due to the longer lead times to produce product and other supply constraints we’ve experienced, when our original plans changed, we still had an obligation to these suppliers.”
Southwest’s move mimics that of American Airlines, which earlier announced it too would continue to suspend onboard liquor sales into 2022. Unlike Southwest, which does not have a first class, American Airlines serves complimentary alcoholic beverages to first class passengers.
Southwest Airlines will delay the sales of alcoholic beverages onboard till at least January 2022. While it hopes this will lead passengers to keep their masks on and cut down on poor behavior onboard, it may have directly the opposite effect. Not offering alcohol may instead embolden passengers to bring it onboard in larger quantities or consume greater quantities in airport bars prior to their flight, creating the potential for even more disturbances.
Withholding alcohol sales creates an environment more likely to cause problems since illicit portions cannot be controlled and anxiousness of flying is worsened by a lack of access to alcohol (and snacks).
However, this is one opinion I would be happy to be proven wrong on…
image: Southwest Airlines