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When are Alcoholic Drinks Free on Flights?

Amy Pollick
Updated: May 23, 2024

As airlines continue to trim their budgets, fewer amenities are offered. Free drinks of any kind may soon be endangered. Most U.S. airlines serve free alcoholic beverages to passengers in the first class, and sometimes in the business class cabin. Those in economy must pay for their miniatures.

First class and business class tickets may cost two to three times (or more) as economy class tickets. Most U.S. airlines figure this entitles these passengers to a few more perks, including free drinks. First and business class seating is roomier and while those in the cattle car in the back are paying $3 or $4 US Dollars (USD) for a box containing chips, a stick of beef jerky and a pack of cookies, the first and business class passengers are receiving free gourmet lunches and free alcohol.

These passengers also receive their free drinks straight from the bottle. In economy, miniature bottles of alcohol are sold for about $4 USD apiece, and the airline only stocks a certain amount of bottles of each variety. In first class, the drinks also include the flight attendant mixing cocktails. In economy, when a passenger asks for a Bloody Mary, for instance, he gets a cup of Bloody Mary mix and a miniature of vodka.

Some of these rules change on international flights. Passengers in economy may be able to order free drinks on long flights, and international airlines may offer them to all passengers at all times.

Occasionally, free drinks may be offered as a result of a special occasion. This author was on a flight to Reno, along with a wedding party. The group drank all the vodka miniatures onboard, and the flight crew also gave the happy couple a bottle of champagne normally reserved for first class. It was a nice gesture.

Getting free drinks of the alcoholic variety on a U.S. flight is rare, though, and is likely to become even less common as budget cuts further affect onboard amenities.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseTour. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon325721 — On Mar 18, 2013

I have an extreme fear of heights that started a few years ago for no reason at all. Since then, the few times I have flown, I have always needed a few beers to calm my nerves, especially since I have anxiety issues as well. One year a few years back, my husband and I flew to Washington State, since he was on orders to go there and we needed to find a place to live because he was going to be stationed there.

Since he was on orders, we were upgraded for free to first class and we got free drinks, which calmed me down so I wasn't so nervous during the flight. I have no idea why in the past few years I developed anxiety issues and a fear of heights. My mom has the same thing so I wonder if it is hereditary. All I am saying is the few drinks helps with my issues dealing with flying, but I do not drink enough to get drunk -- just enough to relax me and take the edge off.

By anon158057 — On Mar 05, 2011

@spreadsheet: "Thousands of miles" haha. what were you on-- the space shuttle?

By anon145033 — On Jan 21, 2011

I'm guessing jeancastle doesn't fly much at all, or is completely new to the experience. Airlines always have their passengers' safety in mind, or else that airline becomes in jeopardy of losing business. Free drinks doesn't mean the stewardess stands there with the beverage cart, handing out the drinks as fast as a passenger can consume them. That, of course, would be irresponsible. They do have the right to refuse to serve any passenger they see as intoxicated, or even a potential nuisance.

And for those who *do* become belligerent, there's an air marshal aboard to take care of any situation. Me, I'm looking forward to throwing back a few drinks on my next flight.

By CoffeeJim — On Nov 09, 2010

I have always managed to get free mixed drinks when I am on an airplane. Where it was the use of drink tickets or the sweet flirtations with cute attendants, I have always prided myself in the fact that I do not pay for the privileged of consuming an adult beverage while on an airline flight.

Typically when I do travel, I am able to pack and check my favorite types of personal alcohol, but obviously the carry on regulations of our post 9/11 world mean that we are not allowed to bring that beverage abroad for consumption during the flight. Because of this I am forced to use the skills I have developed in the area of social engineering. Some might call this social or behavioral hacking, I call it manipulation but the difference of course is that the use of manipulation can only carry a negative connotation if the intention is hurt, harm or some other mean form of action against another. All that this type of manipulation does for me is allow me to get drunk, for free, on an airplane, and who can really dislike that?

By summertime — On Nov 09, 2010

Personally, when I take an extended airplane flight that is going to last more then eight hours, I always enjoy at least a couple of adult beverages. Sometime I am lucky enough to have received some free drink tickets or there is another type of promotion going on that the beverages are free. Sometimes it is needed that I pay for the drinks but honestly, if you can afford it, who wouldn't when you are stuck on a 20 hour flight with crying babies and stinky fellow passengers.

There is something about the use of alcohol that truly just makes flying easier. The edge of unease that sheds away with each supple sip of a Seagram's and Seven is one that only surpassed by a puff of a cannabis cigarette and we all know that they won't be giving away free doobies on your next flight anytime soon.

I guess in the end, it is really up to the individual as always to curb consumption of potentially harmful and obnoxious beverages. In modest use will one find the best means of a balance in sobriety and intoxication.

By spreadsheet — On Nov 09, 2010

While I can understand how some might be upset about the use of alcohol beverages on an airplane would be alarming, I don't think that it is actually much of a problem and if anything, it eases the tensions that are felt when people are flying in a huge tuna can in the sky. People become very uneasy and the nerves rise among the thought of plunging thousands of miles back to the Earth's surface in the event of any number of disasters.

One could even say that the real crazies show their true ways when they emerge from their masks on an airplane flight.

Any way that alcohol free drinks could be used to deter already intoxicated customers would be a great way for employees and attendants to keep check on a client that is feeling to well from the beverage selection.

By jeancastle00 — On Nov 09, 2010

I think that anytime alcohol and airplanes are mixed there is trouble to be had. Whoever had the horrible idea of actually allowing airlines to serve adult beverages should reconsider the grievous circumstances that can arise from such belligerent behavior of a drunk.

By allowing people to consume drinks for free during special times on an airplane flight, the company is essentially condoning such action and I wonder just how much control can actually be taken over an unruly crowd of drunk airline passengers.

Hopefully the airline company's employees have been properly trained in how to handle the gross effects of alcohol inebriation and the best way to deal with a drunk that will not follow the rules and policies of the airline.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseTour. With...
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