Airlines across the industry have adopted new policies regarding mask usage, seating arrangements and more to keep passengers and staff safe in the skies during the coronavirus pandemic. But another early industry shift has flown somewhat under the radar: On most flights, alcohol is gone.
Because COVID-19 can spread through surface contact, airlines have placed an emphasis on reducing “touch points” between fliers and airline staff as much as possible. And beverage service is a major source of those touch points.
To that end, Delta has nixed all beverages on board for the time being aside from single-serve bottles of water. Glassware, ice, plastic cups and other open containers have all been scrapped, too, although Delta allows travelers to bring their own food and nonalcoholic beverages aboard.
American Airlines allows the same, but otherwise its guidelines vary by flight and by ticket. Alcoholic beverages are still available by request on all flights in first class but only on “long-haul international flights” in the main cabin. Fliers can request water or soft drinks on any length of flight in either section, with light snacks served on trips of more than 900 miles.
JetBlue flights, meanwhile, are “offering a pre-sealed bag with water and two snacks” for most customers, a spokesman for JetBlue wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “For our mint product (our version of first class), we are providing a limited selection of beer and wine in single-serve containers and pre-sealed meal boxes.”
Southwest Airlines, which has no first class itself, has temporarily suspended alcohol service on all flights and reduced onboard service on flights of 251 miles or less. Passengers on those flights will be offered unopened cans of water and sealed packages of snack mix, in addition to cups of ice by request, according to a service update in May.
The one exception out of the major carriers? United. The Chicago-based airline hasn’t gotten rid of alcohol service, although it has moved to “only serve sealed beverages” and will no longer offer “ice, coffee and tea service, and poured alcohol.”
It’s not just American companies that are shifting their alcohol policies, either. Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, known for their in-flight food and drink services, have temporarily stopped serving alcohol on flights to limit contact between crew members and passengers. Across Europe, several major airlines such as KLM and British Airways have at least partly cut alcohol service while changing other onboard procedures for the sake of sanitation and safety, according to CNN.
While states are reopening and Americans are emerging more and more out of lockdown, the State Department’s “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory remains in effect. Until it isn’t, this new airborne reality is may be a necessary sacrifice — if, for many, an unpopular one.