Southwest Airlines Flight Proves: Don’t Try to Drink Your Own Alcohol Onboard

You can bring mini-bottles of alcohol through security. But you cannot open them and drink them on a plane.

You can buy alcohol post-security, such as at duty free. But you cannot open the bottles and drink them on a plane.

It is a violation of federal law to drink alcoholic beverage onboard an an aircraft unless served by the airline. Airlines have the option of serving you the alcohol you bring onboard yourself, but that’s entirely at their discretion (and the discretion of the flight attendants on any given flight). So don’t count on it.

Southwest flight WN122 on Saturday night was a 35 jaunt from Houston Hobby airport to… Houston Hobby airport.

Here’s the route they took:

No, this wasn’t a charter flight, and it wasn’t sightseeing. In fact, the flight was supposed to go to San Jose, Costa Rica. There was nothing wrong with the aircraft.

Instead there passengers onboard who brought their own alcohol on the flight and refused crew instructions to cease consuming it. (My seatmate on a Dallas – Austin flight once did that, fortunately we didn’t divert.)

The flight returned to Houston to remove them from the aircraft, and then everyone continued on their journey. Southwest spokesperson Lisa Tiller tells me,

Southwest flight #122 from Houston Hobby to San Jose Costa Rica returned to Houston shortly after takeoff on Saturday evening due to several unruly passengers who refused to follow inflight instruction. The passengers involved were removed and the flight arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica approximately two hours behind schedule. Safety is our primary focus, and we must take appropriate actions to ensure the safety and security of our crews and customers when necessary.

The plane ultimately made its way to Costa Rica a few hours behind schedule. And the passengers who insisted on drinking their own beverages onboard? They won’t be doing any drinking in Costa Rica.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. You’d think if you were halfway discreet about this, you could easily get away with it. But then, I suppose people who are bringing their own mini bottles onto the airplane may not be in the best frame of mind to be discreet…

    Reminds me of the time I had just taken my seat after boarding a redeye departing Las Vegas, and a guy tried to board holding a full pint from the airport bar.

  2. My friends and I have purchased bottles of wine at domestic airport wine shops and drank them on WN flights. The FA said to stop so we continued on more discreetly.

  3. I did do it discreetly a few times! I boarded cold sober & ordered a Coke or a Sprite/ 7Up from the FA, waited for her to walk away, then poured half a 50-ml bottle of gin or vodka into it, saving the other half for the next serving of soda.
    I was caught only once, by a Midway Airlines (Remember them?) FA circa 1992. She said, “I’ll take that bottle from you now.,” so I quietly gave it up. Nothing else happened.
    I find it outrageous that airlines charge nightclub prices for alcohol, which are designed to pay for entertainment and liquor licenses, as well as things already paid for by our fares, such as overhead, wages, utilities, etc!
    BTW, WHY is is illegal to BYOB a plane? Which countries other than the USA do/ don’t have that law?

  4. On a Southwest flight a year ago…guys in front of me tried drinking their own alcohol. FA said to stop, and to encourage them to obey, she provided them several complimentary beverages. Guess that’s one way to do it.

  5. If anything this article seems to prove that you shouldn’t act like an unruly drunk. I’m not sure it proves anything about brining your own alcohol. Other than it apparently rankles Gary’s nerves and shifts his already smug judgement into high gear. In my experience US airlines only stock cheap liquor and refuse to serve anything better if you follow the rules and ask. So far as I can tell this is more about protecting low grade alcohol sales than protecting other passengers. Luckily most US staff are so lazy and indifferent that they have no idea what’s going on unless someone makes a scene over it. It’s only when their precious gossip time gets interrupted that they realize something is up.

  6. Gary, when they devert the plane it must be very expensive, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even more.

    Is the passenger ever forced to pay some or all of that amount ?

    I am thinking not about alcohol, but medical problems, preexisting conditions.

    Thank you

  7. @Dax the effect of the ban is to give airlines a monopoly on sales, much like a movie theatre forbidding outside food and beverages. But the REASON for the policy is so that airline employees can control the amount served to any individual and more easily cut off passengers and prevent them from becoming unruly for safety. Surely one can limit themselves to airline choices and prices (or no alcohol) for the duration of the flight?

  8. People – your replies reflect exactly why they don’t allow you to bring your own alcohol!! It is not about you and your wants and needs, it is about the safety of passengers and crew and about having control of a plane that is in the air and far from any outside help. It is the responsibility of the crew to make sure the passengers have a safe and pleasant flight, and many of those passengers may be small children. If you can’t follow simple rules then maybe you should stay home, because remember it is not ” all about you”!!!! I empathize with the flight flight crew having to deal with people like some who have posted here – the ones that admit they do it all the time and have only been caught a few times. It is sad you cannot go a few hours without an alcoholic drink. And to the person who asks “do other countries have this rule?” – get out of America and learn about the world – YES -ALL COUNTRIES HAVE THIS RULE!!!! Good for you SOUTHWEST – one of my favourite airlines!

  9. FA are required to monitor passenger alcohol consumption they don’t know if you’re passed out if you’re having a medical issue or are just drunk if u you are serving yourself your own alcohol. That’s why it doesnt matter if you bring your own hamburger but you can’t bring your own vodka – genius. The rule has nothing to do with sales. That’s why you can’t take your own alcohol into a bar either. If you serve alcohol you must monitor customers consumption.

  10. PatBB: alcohol is not included in the price of a ticket. Your ticket is to cover flying you from Point A to Point B. I never understand why people complain about paying extra for things like food and drink on an airplane, but not when they buy a train or bus ticket.

  11. @GaryLeff,

    The FAA has a legitimate safety minded focus and I do not dispute that. The FAA doesn’t care who sells you the liquor; they only care that you don’t overindulge and risk the safety of others or otherwise cause trouble while aboard the flight. The FAA’s safety focused compromise was that anyone could bring their own alcohol so long as they handed it over to the FA to dispense in a responsible fashion. This includes coach passengers that make up the vast majority of the flying public. That sounds like a perfectly legitimate safety minded solution to me. Another (rather harsh but legitimately defensible) solution would be to ban all alcohol consumption entirely. However, when airlines themselves will happily serve you more than enough of their own supply to get you drunk enough to have trouble walking straight but refuse to serve you even a drop of self-supplied liquor to a perfectly sober passenger I have a hard time seeing how safety is the focus. Unfortunately the FAA’s easily manipulated reciprocal regulatory structure means that if a US airline adopts a questionable policy it becomes an FAA rule as well, regardless of the objective merits or practical implications.

  12. In accordance with Federal Aviation Administration Laws, It is completely legal to bring your own liquor however it must be served by the flight attendants so they have a way of keeping track of how much you drink, I can’t imagine any flight attendant refusing to serve liquor you bring on board. This is very common on longer international flights.

  13. On a SU flight PKC-SVO, all the way in the back of IL-96, my seat mate and I brought .5l bottle of vodka to make the ~10 hour ride go faster and smoother.

    Right after making an announcement that personal alcoholic beverages were prohibited, FA offered my seatmate and I a few plastic cups and a carton of juice (I think it was orange) so we “didn’t look like a bunch of bums” sipping straight straight from the bottle.

    I hear that Aeroflot cleaned up its ways nowadays…

  14. The reason passengers ARE NOT allowed to consume their own alcholo on a plane is simple. The airline can’t, by law, have drunk passengers on board. In the event of an emergency, the passenger (s) come impede an evacuation. The airline serves its own alcohol (yes for profit for one) but the other reason is so the FA can monitor passengers’ consumption so they don’t drink to the point of over intoxication. The FA first job is to ensure your safety. Catch us off the plane and we can drink you under a table. Lol

  15. The reason passengers ARE NOT allowed to consume their own alcholo on a plane is simple. The airline can’t, by law, have drunk passengers on board. In the event of an emergency, the passenger (s) could impede an evacuation. The airline serves its own alcohol (yes for profit for one) but the other reason is so the FA can monitor passengers’ consumption so they don’t drink to the point of over intoxication. The FA first job is to ensure your safety. Catch us off the plane and we can drink you under a table. Lol

  16. RobertH: My point is that airlines should be charging liquor-store prices, not trendy-night-club prices!
    My position is closest to Dax’s November 10, 2015 at 9:48 am post above.

  17. What I don’t understand is why I can’t take the little bottles I buy on the plane, off the plane? I recently ordered a couple of bottles with the idea of taking one with me to the hotel for a nightcap. It was a short haul, red eye flight, hotel bar was closed, and past time to purchase liquor anywhere else. Anyway, the flight attendant told me when I ordered it, that I couldn’t take it off the plane, so I drank it on the plane but don’t understand that policy at all.

  18. What an overreaction by the crew to a minor infraction. Inconveniencing all the passengers. Wasting all the fuel. Wasting all the crew flight hours. There are about 100 ways this could have been handled better and smarter.

  19. It’s called a Texas state liquor licence. You can’t serve yourself in a bar you can’t serve yourself in our bar in the sky, same rules! Duh people grow up.

  20. Keep your bottles in your pocket. Go into the restroom & drink them. It’s not ideal, but it certainly beats forfeiting your own liberties.

  21. There are several reasons for this, most of which have already been covered, but bear repeating…

    1. The FAA does not allow passengers who appear to be intoxicated to board. Pilots who knowingly allow their plane to depart with someone who “is just going to sleep it off” or “knows they won’t be served any alcohol” have lost their jobs over this.

    2. Southwest ‘s liquor license is issued by the Texas Alvoholic Beverage Commission, which holds the company, as well as Flight Attendant’s accountable if you are over served. Flight Attendants have no way to monitor your consumption if you bring your own. (BTW, Southwest Flight Attendants, unlike some other carriers, are unable to serve you your own alcohol.)

    Pat, I’m at an airport hotel in Seattle right now, and they are charging $16 for a glass of white wine. No joke, I’m looking at the menu. $5 on an airplane doesn’t seem unreasonable by comparison.

    Renée, Southwest’s liquor license prohibits anyone from taking alcohol off the plane, just as in a lot of restaurants/ airports you’ll see the sign “No alcohol beyond this point.”

    Jiminy and Lindy, it boils down to the fact that aviation still can be dangerous. The FAA bad NTSB and airlines, and yes, even flight crews, do as much as they can to make it as safe as they can. Every Incident/accidents

  22. Ugh! Sorry for the accidental/unedited post!

    Continuing… Incidents/accidents are evaluated and contributing factors are mitigated (such as the 1977 San Diego accident leading to TCAS).

    Alcohol greatly impacts peoples’ behavior on the ground. What happens when you’re stuck in a metal tube at 41,000 feet going 500 miles an hour over the Gulf of Mexico and someone gets belligerent? Maybe takes a swing at another passenger? Takes a swing at a Flight Attendant. There’s no calling a cab then. And I doubt anyone would want the flight met by Mexican police on the receiving end…

  23. A). $5 for a cocktail is not a “trendy nightclub price”.

    B). Do you go to a nightclub and expect a free plane ride?

    Your argument is nonsense.

  24. As a flight attendant for 15 years i have found that almost every single problem with passengers was involving alcohol……..getting drunk at the bar and then getting on the plane, or drinking to much on the plane because they are going on vacation and lets get the party started now!!! The plane is not a bar and we are not bartenders. If you can’t handle your liquor then i suggest you wait till you are at your vacation before throwing down. We simply will not put up with it. You are on public transportation…remember that and act accordingly. I avoid working P.M. (evening) flights now because they have the bulk of the drinkers and partiers on them and i avoid flying to the fun little islands because of the same thing. I don’t like having to be a cop on the plane and make people behave….i shouldn’t have to and at night its worse…….so yep i get why they turned that plane around and pulled them off!!!! See ya!!!! I would have done the same thing.

  25. Can you go into a bar and bring your own alcohol? There are liquor licenses that have to be adhered to, and WN procured their license in the state of Texas.

  26. K, Amy, & Mitzi: The Texas ABC liquor license applies only on flights within TX, if at all. Flights crossing State lines or Intl. borders are regulated only by the Feds under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution!
    Travis: Some (most?) airlines now charge $7–8 for a 50ml (jigger) bottle of spirits, which is what most trendy nightclubs charge outside of NYC, LA, etc. Besides, many foreign airlines DO give free alcohol to their Eco passengers. I did not ask for it free above; I said it should be sold at near liquor-store prices!

  27. Just now reading the comments on this article. Wow! I’m amazed at the ignorance by so many! First of all, do you go to a bar or restaurant and bring your own alcohol? I don’t think so! Secondly, the flight crew needs to have control over how much people drink because alcohol affects you differently at 40,000 feet and they are trained in all that. Thirdly, the person who said they only sell cheap alcohol doesn’t know what they are talking about! I’m a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline and we serve Dewars scotch, Jack Daniels, Bicardi rum, etc.. so we serve some pretty good quality stuff! Also, the person who says it is overpriced, really? The airline I work for sells all beer, liquor and wine for $5 each! That is lower than most bars and restaurants who don’t have near the overhead that an airline does! Quit your complaining, follow the rules and if you can’t, then drive your car instead of flying! Just because you buy a ticket (and probably on sale), that doesn’t give you the right to act like a jerk and do whatever you want. If I catch you drinking our own alcohol on one of my flights, I will confiscate it and if you argue with me, I will also ask the pilot to return to the departing airport and have you removed.

  28. I fly for SWA and also flew for Continental in the past. Over the years procedures have changed…and for the better I might add. In the past there was a looser attitude towards alcohol consumption and also who we let on board the aircraft. (The “sleep it off” type.) Numerous factors have led to a shift in attitude on this topic and others, and that is mainly 9/11. NOT that the alcohol question is to be confused with terrorist activity, but since that tragic event, overall evaluations have been made to better provide passenger and crew safety in all areas. People boarding an aircraft are monitored by ticket agents and crew for anything that might raise a question about their mental state or behavior at that time. It is rare but occasionally a person is denied boarding if their behavior is questionable. And this is BEFORE departure. Once in the air our options are quite limited should significantly unruly behavior occur. The number one factor for this type of behavior is alcohol consumption. People, whether you like it or not, measures must be in place for crew members to take action to insure overall passenger and crew safety. We can’t just pull over! And sneaking your own alcohol is juvenile at the least and potentially hazardous at the most. Regardless of liquor license laws and whether or not you agree with them, or you have seatback issues, or leg room issues or whatever, you purchased a seat for transportation only, and any perks you get is dependent on how much you paid for that ticket. The airlines are governed by the FAA and NTSB and within those guidelines they can set additional ones per airline. It is ALL designed for safety—Number 1—and there is a much bigger picture at play than you and your need to drink heavily and not pay for it and consider it your right to do so. Drink yourself silly on your vacation; have a drunken moped accident (have brought many such injured passengers back), do whatever you want once you get there, but your respectful behavior is requested on the public transportation that gets your there.

  29. and then the returning pax from CR will miss their connections?

    let the pax drink on board.. stop being fascist.

  30. I’m still not sure what’s wrong with those of us who have our one drink and keep to ourselves. I just put my headphones on, turn on my Kindle, and chill until I fall asleep or we land.
    Seems like it’d be fine were it not for the people who drink like fish and can’t control themselves.

  31. Lol how can people honestly think this doesn’t have anything to do with airlines wanting to charge you 10x prices for their alcohol?

  32. I drink before and during air travel. Reason? simple, I am claustrophobic and can’t deal with the confinement of air travel unless I have something that can calm my nerves. Alcohol works like magic and I can endure the flight no problem if I am juiced a bit. I have drank at least 4 ounces of jack Daniels honey liqueur so something similar on every flight I have taken for the last 10 yrs. 2 weeks ago I flew from wa to mi to visit my son, drank before and during the flight using my little 3 oz plastic bottles. I pop 2 of them out of by briefcase and stash them behind a magazine. after we leave the ground, I down them. I have usually already had 2 previous to boarding or had a good stiff drink at the bar. It Works, and I’m good until we land..

    I’m never visibly “drunk” just nicely buzzed and relaxed and I don’t feel that panic attack coming on like what happens if I do not drink anything. Last flight I took where I did not drink was a flight to Hawaii back in 2003, good god that was a friggin nightmare. Seats so close your knees hit the seat in front of you.

    I would not even consider flying without drinking before and during flight.

    I just entered a local contest where you can win a trip to Tahiti, sounded good until I found out it is a 10 hr flight, now I hope I don’t win, but if I do, I’m going damn it. Maybe at that point I’ll just do what I actually should be doing and hit up my doctor for something that will accomplish the same thing but in pill form, maybe with a sleeping pill to boot, that way I can just sleep the entire flight while drooling on myself haha, wonder how the FA’s will like that?

  33. Wow Linda K. I was sitting here agreeing with your post until you said “have a drunken moped accident”. I don’t get the mentality of people who wish others to have some sort of accident. Such a shame that people think this way.

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