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Did Airlines Start Serving Alcohol in the 1950s?

Alcohol is a known depressant and has been helpful with calming the nerves for those we aren’t really fond of flying. But did you know, American airline companies did not serve alcohol before the 1950s?

When a few airlines started serving alcohol in the 50s, flight attendants were only allowed to serve alcohol within states’ airspace that permitted liquor manufacturing and sales.

What were the Regulations on Serving Alcohol In-Flight?

Before the 1950s, commercial airlines did not include alcoholic drinks in their in-flight menus. But soon after, some started serving alcohol to their passengers. During that time, alcoholic sales and consumption varied considerably among the different states. This was the aftereffect of the Prohibition era that lasted from 1920 to 1933. (Source: NCBI)

The Eighteenth Amendment brought about dry states. These were states where manufacture, distribution, importation, or sale was deemed illegal or heavily restricted. While there are no more dry states today, there are still dry counties. But it was a different case in the fifties. (Source: World Population Review)

When airlines offered alcohol, they had to be very mindful of which states they were flying over. Inflight crew members were trained on who, when, and where they could serve alcohol during flights.

Inflight bar attendants were given a chart of state liquor sale restrictions. The chart would list the states within the flight route. It will also provide information on the hours and days each state prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol and the restrictions to the persons served. (Source: Air Space Magazine)

Bar attendants would rely on the charts, landmarks, his watch, or the advice from pilots as to when and who he can serve drinks to. Attendants are also expected to know that liquor cannot be served on Sundays, election days, specific holidays, and specific hours in some states.

These restrictions did have their setbacks. Some unruly passengers intimidated bar attendants into giving them more alcohol, or worse, getting the drinks of other passengers. Soon, the FAA imposed a two-drink limit to be sold inflight. Congress sought to ban serving liquor in domestic flights. Still, six airlines agreed to limit sales and consumption of hard alcohol but maintained their existing policy on beer and wine services.

Banning Alcohol Services in 2021

Airlines see a surge in sales as people are beginning to travel again. This was brought about by the availability of vaccines and the relaxation of the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. (Source: Forbes)

Airlines restricted serving meals and drinks during the pandemic to minimize customer interactions and to ensure everyone’s safety while onboard. Some airlines relaxed their restrictions and began serving meals and beverages to their customers, with Southwest Airlines as one of them. 

The surge of travelers also brought about a rise of unruly passengers. The FAA reports passenger incidents, some of which are violent against flight attendants, have surged this year even though the number of passengers is below average, pre-pandemic levels.

Since the start of 2021, the FAA has received around 2,500 reports of unruly passengers, and most of these reports were linked to non-compliance on drinking restrictions and federal law on wearing masks. (Source: CNBC)

In June, Southwest gained national attention after a video of an altercation between a passenger and a flight attendant went viral. With this incident, the airline suspended alcohol sales inflight.

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