The Legal Ins and Outs of Drinking While Flying

From noise-canceling headphones to Xanax, air travelers look for any modicum of comfort to make the flying experience tolerable. But, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to do its part to keep mid-flight enjoyment to a minimum. They take a hard line on flying with weed. They also don’t like travelers flying with too much liquid, including everything from soup to shampoo to sangria. But, what about packing and, more importantly, consuming your own booze? The legal ins and outs of drinking while flying are surprisingly straightforward.

Everyone knows the TSA is damn strict on liquid allowances: Each passenger is allowed only one resealable, quart-sized bag of 3.4-ounce (or less) bottles. That’s it. What many people don’t know, however, is the list of allowable liquids is surprisingly generous. Almost any gel, spray, paste, cream, roll-on deodorant, or liquid is fine. “Liquid” includes any beverage less than or equal to 70% alcohol by volume. In short, the TSA has no problem with you replacing all the liquid toiletries in your carry-on with mini booze bottles (It helps that those bottles are typically 1.7 ounces).

drinking while flying two men on airplane cheersing with whiskey getty images 1
Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images

There’s a catch, of course. Packing that booze is one thing; being allowed to consume it mid-flight is another. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction over the latter. Sadly, for anyone who enjoys mixing their own gin and tonic at 30,000 feet, they’re unequivocal in their stance on the matter: “FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol on board the aircraft unless it is served by the air carrier.”

Eagle-eyed readers might notice the loophole in the above statement, however. JetBlue did, which is why the airline discreetly offers its passengers BYOB service on domestic flights. The regulations state that passengers can only drink alcohol “served by the air carrier.” That means passengers can technically request that a flight attendant open their own bottle of booze and pour it for them. JetBlue’s official alcohol guidelines state, “You may bring wine, champagne or beer on a flight for consumption during the flight if it is in an unopened container. If you’d like to drink the alcohol you carry on, you may give it to one of our Inflight crewmembers, and they will be happy to serve it to you.”

It all boils down to safety. The crew of every flight can better manage the aircraft if they knew what and how much alcohol their passengers are consuming en route. So, if you must fix your own mid-flight cocktails, try to maintain your composure. If you get out of hand and wind up duct taped to your seat or arrested when you land, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

If you’re the sort of gentleman who routinely dumps half their clothing mid-trip to make room for bottles of exotic bourbon, check out our primer on how to pack booze in your luggage.

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