After a marked increase in disruptive — and sometimes dangerous — behavior by passengers, some airlines are changing their plans to start selling alcohol in the cabin again.
Southwest, which banned a woman for allegedly assaulting a flight attendant last week, said it would postpone the return of alcohol sales to an unspecified time after an earlier pause due to the pandemic. The carrier had planned to resume sales on flights to Hawaii this month and other flights next month.
“Given a recent uptick industrywide of incidents in-flight involving disruptive passengers, we’re pausing previously announced resumption of alcohol service onboard,” the airline said in a statement, adding that it would still expand its selection of soft drinks and coffee. “We realize this decision will be disappointing for some customers, but we feel it to be the right decision now in the interest of safety and comfort of all onboard.”
American followed suit, telling flight attendants in a memo on Saturday that it was suspending alcohol in the main cabin. Alcohol will still be offered during flights in business and first class.
The memo said many passengers might have more anxiety than usual and might not be familiar with the COVID-era flight changes, and it acknowledged that some “deeply disturbing situations” had occurred recently.
“We also recognize that alcohol can contribute to atypical behavior from customers onboard and we owe it to our crew not to potentially exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers,” said the memo from Brady Byrnes, the airline’s managing director of flight service training and administration.
The airline stopped selling alcohol in the main cabin last March and had previously said it would return later in this summer. Saturday’s memo said alcohol sales would be suspended through Sept. 13, when the federal mask mandate for planes, airports and other public transportation is set to expire.
“While we appreciate that customers and crew members are eager to return to ‘normal,’ we will move cautiously and deliberately when restoring pre-COVID practices,” Byrnes wrote.
United said that as of Tuesday, beer, wine and hard seltzer will be available on most flights over 800 miles. It has previously planned to make it available on flights longer than 200 miles, or about an hour, but decided to take “a more cautious approach to the roll out.” The airline did not give a reason for the change.
Airlines have reported a sharp rise in the number of passengers behaving badly on flights in recent months, including drinking their own alcohol, assaulting flight attendants and refusing to wear masks. The Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it had received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior since the beginning of the year, including 1,900 reports of passengers disobeying federal face-mask requirements.
The agency has announced civil penalties against at least 22 passengers since February.
Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement Tuesday that broader action on alcohol sales was needed to combat the problem.
“The incidents of violence on planes is out of control and alcohol is often a contributor. The federal government should provide guidance to airlines and airports on pausing alcohol sales for a period of time,” she said. “We should do everything in our power to remove contributors to the problem.”