American Airlines has just announced that it will be extending its suspension of main cabin alcohol sales on domestic flights through at least January 18, 2022, aiming to avoid the continuation of an upward trend in unruly passenger behavior. The expiration date was chosen to coincide with this week’s extension of the TSA’s federal transportation mask mandate.
As U.S. airlines began bringing back beverage service earlier this year, both American and Southwest Airlines opted to delay the resumption of in-flight alcohol sales, given how many incidents of disorderly and often abusive passenger conduct involve drunkenness.
American also said that it’s “gaining ground in our work” with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to stop sales of to-go alcoholic drinks at its hubs in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.
Earlier this month, the FAA called upon airport operators to admonish travelers that bringing alcoholic drinks onboard flights is prohibited. “As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson wrote to airport officials on August 3. “Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior. The FAA requests that airports work with their concessionaires to help avoid this.”
In a note sent to employees yesterday, Stacey Frantz, American’s senior manager of flight service policies, said, “We are doing all we can to help create a safe environment for our crew and customers on board our aircraft.”
Onboard food and drink service was largely eliminated by major U.S. airlines starting in March 2020 to minimize contact between passengers and flight attendants amid COVID-19, with only packaged water and snacks being served.
More than a year later, American Airlines had first planned to resume in-flight alcohol sales as part of reinstated beverage service on May 1, but an unprecedented number of belligerent passengers convinced the carrier to hold off until September 13, when the federal mask mandate was formerly set to expire. The new target date of January 18 was likewise selected to coincide with the TSA’s extension of its federal transportation mask mandate, announced on Tuesday.
Among the most shocking malfeasances perpetrated by passengers this year was a case in which a traveler allegedly assaulted a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, knocking out her two front teeth and inflicting other facial injuries. As a result, Southwest also postponed plans to bring back alcohol sales, and a spokesperson told CNBC that it hasn’t established a date for resuming them.
Of the 3,889 reports of unruly passenger behavior reported to the FAA since January 1—the fines for which now collectively exceed $1 million—roughly 2,867 involve flyers refusing to comply with the mask mandate. And, according to data from The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA), around 85 percent of flight attendants in the U.S. have dealt with an unruly passenger incident in 2021.
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