Airlines ban alcohol, cut back on regular beverage service due to COVID-19

American, Delta and United have adjusted their in-flight services to limit transactions between passengers and crew.
airline beverage
Many airlines have revised their food and beverage offerings due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 5m3photos / Getty Images stock

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/ Source: TODAY
By Aly Walansky

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all major U.S. airlines have enacted policies in recent months to limit food and beverage service for most passengers on domestic flights. Many carriers have even stopped offering alcoholic beverages on most flights, including longer trips.

The policies, many of which were enacted in March or April, help all aboard adhere to social distancing guidelines, the airlines say. Limiting alcohol service and scaling back (or eliminating) basic beverage service is just another way airlines are trying reduce contact between flight attendants and passengers.

While current snack and beverage offerings will differ among airlines, all have made significant changes to their previous in-flight services. Next time you're flying, keep in mind that airlines have continued to allow passengers to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the cabin.

American Airlines

American Airlines started halting alcohol service in the main cabin on domestic flights in April, but wine and cocktails are still available by request for those seated in first class and long-haul international flights. There will be no cocktail service pre-takeoff either, but pretzels or Biscoff cookies and bottled water will be available to those seated in the first class cabin. "The policy is to provide for minimal contact between flight attendants and customers, whenever possible," a spokesperson for American Airlines told TODAY via email.

On flights shorter than 2,200 miles, the airline is only offering beverages upon request and no food or snacks will be served. On longer flights, alcohol will not be served in the main cabin, but regular drink service will still be offered.

When asked why just alcohol was banned and not all drink service, a representative for the airline told TODAY that since alcohol purchases in the main cabin usually require payment, eliminating that offering was another way to reduce points of contact between crew members and guests.

Delta

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Delta Airlines stopped serving alcohol on domestic flights and short-haul international flights in late March. Beer, wine and spirits are still available on long-haul international flights.

"We haven’t announced a date for alcohol to return yet, but our teams are continuously evaluating. All of our recent food and beverage changes are aimed at decreasing touch points onboard to protect customers and employees," a representative for Delta told TODAY.

Now passengers, regardless of their assigned cabin, will receive pre-packed snack bags while boarding their domestic flight. Along with a bottle of Dasani water, the bags include crackers, cookies and a sanitizing wipe. Currently, the only beverage being served onboard most flights is bottled water. On long-haul international flights, Delta One passengers will get a bottle of water before departure, and will be able to choose from a full selection of beverages while flying.

JetBlue

JetBlue has suspended in-cabin sales of beer, wine and liquor on most flights in the main cabin. Those seated in the airline's premium Mint section will receive drinks in single-use cups instead glassware. General snack and beverage service has also been scaled back.

"We adjusted our service around the time the pandemic hit the United States, and at this point there are no imminent plans to readjust our offerings," a spokesperson for JetBlue told TODAY. "In an effort to limit as many touch points and transactions as possible between crew members and customers, we are offering a pre-sealed bag with water and two snacks for our Core customers."

Customers seated in Mint will still be offered a limited selection of beer and wine, plus meals in sealed boxes.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has suspended all beverage service (including alcohol) on many flights “to limit close interactions.” The exception is that the airline still may offer “cans of water with straws and a snack mix” on flights over 250 miles.

United Airlines

United Airlines is only serving beverages in sealed containers, while pre-packaged wines and beers are only available in the first class cabin. The airline has also stopped serving snacks in its economy section for flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes. During longer flights, an "all-in-one" snack bag with a sanitizer wipe, bottled water, stroopwafel and package of pretzels, will be available to passengers seated in economy and premium cabins.

“Since the end of March, we have only been offering beer and wine ... in premium cabins only,” a spokesperson for United Airlines confirmed.