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

Jun 25, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

Stay up-to-date on airline and aviation news by signing up for our aviation newsletter.

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

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.