The safety of passengers as well as crew members is of utmost importance to airlines. But serving alcohol products routinely puts crew members and other passengers at risk with some passengers getting unruly or even violent in-flight.
Many U.S. airlines banned alcohol sales in-flight as the COVID-19 pandemic broke out to curb the spread of the virus. Unruly behavior fueled by alcohol has long been a problem for airlines. Last year a Southwest Airlines flight attendant faced a particularly violent assault during a flight, sparking outrage. Southwest suspended serving alcohol in flight due to the incident.
Nevertheless, Southwest has now decided to allow alcohol sales in-flight from February 16, 2022 onwards for flights of 176 miles or longer.
Uptick of in-flight unruly behavior during the pandemic
The U.S. still implements a mask mandate for flying, which is set to be active till March, 2022. But serving alcohol reduces the efficacy of the mandate since passengers will remove masks more often to consume alcohol. Many unruly behavior incidents during the ongoing pandemic stem from mask issues.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that the number of investigations the FAA took on regarding unruly passengers have steadily risen since the pandemic began. Figures rose from 146 in 2019 and 183 in 2020 to 1,099 in 2021. Meanwhile reports on unruly passengers hit 5,981 in 2021. Almost three-quarters, 73% of these reports were related to mask-related incidents. The FAA has also said that alcohol plays a role in these incidents. This was the reason that the FAA urged airports to stop providing alcohol-to-go for travelers.
Flight attendants say allowing alcohol in-flight is “unsafe and irresponsible”
Transport Workers Union Local 556 (TWU Local 556), the union representing Southwest flight attendants, have stated that allowing alcohol in-flight is unsafe and irresponsible.
TWU Local 556 is outraged at Southwest Airlines’ resumption of alcohol sales, a move we consider to be both unsafe and irresponsible,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, as per ABC News.
We have adamantly and unequivocally informed management that resuming sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer non-compliance and misconduct issues.”Lyn Montgomery, president, Transport Workers Union Local 556
In the emailed statement by TWU Local 556, Ms. Montgomery points out that allowing alcohol-sales in-flight again can:
- increase customer non-compilance and misconduct with regards to the mask mandate, and
- put the lives of flight attendants at-risk on short-haul flights, since they are serving alcohol upon descent rather than being secure in jump seats.
American Airlines is currently the only airline not allowing alcohol in their main cabin. However, they do allow alcohol in premium cabins.
The CEO of Delta Airlines had written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for support to put convicted unruly passengers on a no-fly list that would bar them from flying on other airlines.
The Washington Post: “As alcohol returns to planes, some flight attendants fear an ‘unsafe’ workplace”
ABC News: “Flight attendants outraged at Southwest’s decision to resume alcohol sales“
Fox News: “Southwest to bring alcohol back on flights, citing customer demand“