American Airlines’ CEO talks bringing back buy-on-board service, including alcohol

Jun 25, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that American Airlines has not “established a specific date for the return of onboard alcohol in the main cabin” of its aircraft, but has committed to not bringing it back “while the federal mask mandate is in place through Sept. 13,” per an airline spokesperson. 

As air travel continues to rebound, airlines are slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels of service. But there’s one aspect that hasn’t returned yet on all airlines and that’s onboard alcohol sales.

Although initially suspended due to COVID concerns, several airlines delayed the return of alcohol due to an uptick in disorderly passenger behavior. However, as reported by View from the Wing, at least one of those airlines has a new target date for when it plans to relaunch alcohol sales in the main cabin.

In a meeting with flight attendants, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, shared that the airline will not bring back alcohol sales while the federal mask mandate is in place. The federal mask mandate is currently set to expire on Sept. 13.

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Parker explained, “We’ve chosen not to reinstate alcohol in the main cabin until September 13th. There’s no coincidence there that’s the same date as the mask requirement ending. That’s why we did it. Because we don’t think putting alcohol on the airplane at the same time you’re having to enforce masks is a good idea.”

The Fort Worth-based carrier was originally supposed to resume alcohol sales on June 1, but followed Southwest’s lead in holding off following an assault on one of its flight attendants. It’s said that the dispute started over the mask policy.

“Only we and Southwest have done that. Every other airline has to my knowledge either serving alcohol or plans to serve alcohol which is their prerogative, we don’t think that’s a good idea,” Parker added.

Related: Southwest delays return of alcohol, will resume coffee service as planned

In addition to alcoholic beverages, the buy-on-board menu will feature light fare like sandwiches, wraps and breakfast platters.

“American’s reintroduction of beverage service is a careful and informed process to ensure everyone on board feels safe and comfortable,” said Brady Byrnes, vice president of flight service. “When customers fly with American, they are trusting us with their safety. This is why our ongoing partnerships with the APFA and medical experts are critical in ensuring the timing is right and customers have peace of mind.”

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

On May 1, American resumed full complimentary beverage service in domestic premium cabins on all flights. This includes alcohol, canned drinks, juice and water, as well as hot beverages, like tea and coffee. Throughout the pandemic, AA has been serving drinks on request for all first-class flyers on routes shorter than 2,200 miles. Additionally, earlier in the spring, American expanded its “Fresh Bites” offering for first-class passengers on domestic flights over 2,200 miles — mostly cross-country routes. These options include fresh fruit, yogurt and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and sandwiches, salads and fresh appetizers for lunch and dinner.

Although alcohol was put on hold, as of June 1, all domestic coach passengers on flights longer than 250 miles can once again enjoy a complimentary drink, including canned sodas, juices, bottled water, tea and coffee. Previously, drink service in economy was only provided on flights longer than 2,200 miles.

Resuming a more substantial inflight offering comes as American’s Big 3 competitors, Delta and United, recently announced similar moves.

Related: Here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

Delta began offering a new snack and beverage service on domestic and select short-haul international flights on April 14, including canned cocktails provided by Tip Top Proper Cocktails. The Atlanta-based carrier also began expanding its premium-cabin meal service in mid-June.

United is improving its coach offerings as well. The carrier recently unveiled redesigned snack boxes along with a revamped buy-on-board service. Alcohol sales are available on flights two hours and 20 minutes or longer and snacks are available on flights over four hours.

Of course, the one downside to expanded inflight service means less time that passengers are wearing masks. Nevertheless, with all adults in the U.S. now eligible for a vaccine, hopefully, the virus will be well under control by the end of the summer.

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy

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