United is restoring liquor sales, downplays risk of unruly passengers

Oct 27, 2021

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Drinks are making a comeback on United Airlines this winter.

The Chicago-based airline is bucking the trend and restarting hard liquor sales in the coach cabin beginning on Nov. 15.

The news was communicated to flight attendants in an internal memo, which was seen by TPG and confirmed by the airline.

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When hard liquor sales resume in mid-November, they’ll be available on flights of at least 301 miles in domestic, Canada and Latin America markets.

You’ll be able to choose from an assortment of vodka, gin, whiskey and other single-serve miniatures when the flight attendant passes by your row.

Crews have been instructed to only serve passengers a single nip of liquor at a time during each beverage service.

Prices range from $9 to $10, and top-tier Premier 1K and invite-only Global Services members can enjoy a complimentary alcoholic drink when seated in coach.

For everyone else, payment will be collected using United’s new contactless method, which requires saving a valid form of payment in the carrier’s mobile app before departure.

A look at United’s beverage options on a recent Polaris flight (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In recent months, United has exclusively served beer, wine and hard seltzer in the coach cabin — and kept the “hard stuff” limited to those sitting in the pointy end of the plane.

The move to restore full alcohol service comes as airlines nationwide are experiencing a sharp uptick in the number of unruly passengers. To mitigate the risk of inflight disturbances, some carriers, including American and Southwest, have scrapped all liquor sales in the coach cabin.

“As always, flight attendants are responsible for recognizing alcohol and drug intoxication symptoms and should report any customer who appears to be under the influence,” reads the United memo.

A carrier spokesperson explained the decision to restore liquor sales in a statement, saying:

Our decision to bring back liquor was heavily informed by feedback from both our customers and employees. The incidence of unruly passengers is very low compared to our number of customers overall and is also low in comparison to what other U.S. carriers are seeing. With travel demand on the rise and the many safety protocols we have in place, particularly with our suite of contactless payment solutions, now felt like the right time to expand our inflight beverage menu.

In addition to bringing back liquor sales to coach, United is also tweaking its seasonal beverages menu to “get into the holiday spirit,” with the full details below:

  • White Claw Hard Seltzer Black Cherry replaces White Claw Hard Seltzer Mango
  • Goose Island Neon Beer Hug IPA replaces Breckenridge Brewery Juicy Drop Hazy IPA
  • Kona Longboard Island Lager replaces Kona Big Wave Golden Ale

These changes will kick in on Nov. 1, and the existing stock of the outgoing drinks will be depleted in the coming weeks.

Full menu of liquor options

  • Wheatley Craft Distilled Vodka – $9
  • Bombay Sapphire Gin – $10
  • Bacardi Rum – $9
  • Jack Daniel’s Whiskey – $9
  • Glenfarclas 12-Year Scotch – $10
  • Dewar’s White Label Scotch – $9
  • Buffalo Trace Bourbon – $10
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream – $10

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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