The Real Rules Around Drinking in Airports and on Airplanes

Between being stuck in a long security line behind someone who decided to pack a carry-on full of water bottles and the screaming children sprawled out on the 1970s carpets, there is something about an airport that makes you want a stiff drink. And don’t even get us started on airplanes themselves. Those metal tubes improbably hurling through the sky come with their own set of thirst-inducing anxieties. Luckily, most terminals have at least one bar or kiosk pedaling booze, and airplanes generally also offer some alcoholic options. But still, getting a drink while traveling is not that simple. There are many, many complex rules surrounding drinking in airports and airplanes. Here are all the answers to all the questions you may have:

Drinking in Airports

Is it legal to drink anywhere in any airport?

In short: sometimes. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be some sort of master database of all airports where you can legally take a drink to go. But from our research it appears that Nashville International, Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare, George Bush Intercontinental and William P Hobby in Houston, Fort Lauderdale International, Las Vegas McCarran International, Miami International and Tampa International all allow you to buy a drink and enjoy it wherever, even at your gate. Generally, though, there are marked off areas within airports where people can enjoy an adult beverage purchased at one of those little kiosks or poured into a plastic to-go cup at a bar. Or, if you are at one of those terminals peppered with iPads, you can certainly drink from wherever you place your order.

Can I drink a bottle of booze I bought in the airport?

No, you can’t. That bottle cannot be opened until you are safely at your destination.

Do I have to tip in an airport?

If there is a bartender serving you a Bloody Mary or a waiter bringing you the double Chardonnay you ordered off an iPad then yes, you have to tip. Other rules may be a bit different here than anywhere else but that one still applies, in America at least.

Can I take my drink with me on the plane?

If you do happen to be at one of those magical airports where you can freely drink and roam, you still cannot take your drink with you when you board. Gulp it down, because there’s an entirely different rules on the plane. We told you this was complicated.

Drinking on Planes

How old do I have to be to drink alcohol on a plane?

While the flight is on the ground, you always must comply by the rules of the country or state you are in. In the sky, though, it’s a bit more of a wild west situation. It depends on the airline. Usually, the rules on the flight correlate to the laws of the country in which the airline is registered. That said, some flights look to the laws in their destination country to decide upon a legal drinking age.

Can I bring my own alcohol onto the plane?

Yes, you may bring alcohol within the TSA approved limits (3.4 ounces or less) on a plane. You may also bring on any bottle of wine or beer you bought within the terminal—as long as it is unopened.

Can I drink my own alcohol on the plane?

Here’s where things get muddy. You cannot serve your own alcohol. But some airlines, like JetBlue, will allow you to BYO alcohol with the intention of drinking it. You must hand it over to a flight attendant for them to open and serve you. That way, they can monitor how much you imbibe. Many other airlines though won’t serve you anything you don’t buy from them.

Can I take anything I don’t drink off the plane?

No you cannot. Don’t try stocking up on mini bottles to give as gifts. You can’t take your drinks to go.

How much can I drink on the plane?

Like in a bar, there is no set number of drinks allotted to each passenger. But the flight attendants do have the right to refuse to serve you any more booze, should you appear overly intoxicated in any way. Similarly, the airline can also refuse to let you on the plane if you drank too much while waiting for your flight in the airport. Pace yourself, traveler.