We may no longer be in the golden age of flying, when people dressed up just to fly to Kansas City and drinking was the only form of in-flight entertainment, but we can still feel as glamorous as if we were in the ‘60s by enjoying a quality cocktail at 39,000 feet. From luxury first class bar lounges to pre-bottled craft cocktails to good ol’ free booze, these airlines go above and beyond with their in-flight alcohol service.
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Experience Hawaii’s legendary hospitality long before you hit its shores with Hawaiian Airlines’ new island-inspired cocktail menu. Earlier this year, the airline partnered with On The Rocks to create a range of custom, pre-bottled "premium cocktails" that feature distinctly Hawaiian ingredients you won’t find on other airlines. The cocktails include a Mai Tai made with a blend of dark rums, toasted coconut and pineapple; a Lychee Vodka Martini made with orgeat and kumquat; and a Li Hing Vodka Gimlet, made from li hing mui, a dried, sour Asian plum. The OTR cocktails, which are $8 for those in economy class and complimentary in the upper classes, will pair especially well with Hawaiian fare created by chef Chai Chaowasaree, like barbecue chicken sandwiches with grilled pineapple, served on sweet Hawaiian buns.
The upper class Emirates air lounge is arguably the most well known mile-high indulgence, thanks to those commercials featuring a Martini-sipping Jennifer Aniston, and it’s about to get even better. Starting in July, Emirates will feature a bigger, sleeker onboard lounge inspired by private yacht cabins. They will continue to serve cocktails mixed up by a real bartender, as well as a wide range of fine wines and Dom Pérignon Champagne. Those in economy class can enjoy a taste of luxury too, with complimentary wine, beer and spirits, as well as a DIY Bloody Mary that comes with vodka, Tabasco, salt and pepper, and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Air France has the distinction of being the only airline to serve genuine French Champagne to every passenger for free, as well as other wines selected by Paolo Basso, who was awarded the title of ASI Best Sommelier of the World in 2013. On long-haul flights, passengers can opt for a complimentary cocktail instead of wine, as well as a digestive liqueur instead of coffee or tea to wash down their hot meal.
In addition to the typical offerings, passengers on Japan Airlines flights can sip on complimentary Japanese whisky, sake and umeshu—a sweet plum wine. There’s also a wide range of non-alcoholic Japanese mixers available, like Sky Time Kiwi and green Ayataka tea. In the upper classes, passengers can enjoy a wider range of wines and sakes selected by wine director Motohiro Okoshi. There’s even a Royal Blue Tea, which is a non-alcoholic, Chinese high-grade green tea that’s meant to be savored like a wine.
Tequila is not a standard offering on most economy class booze menus, making Aeromexico’s complimentary tequila service one of our favorites. As long as it’s after 11 a.m., Aeromexico offers Maestro Tequilero tequila (in addition to beer and wine) to passengers on all flights. For longer international flights, you’ll be pairing that tequila with a meal crafted by world-famous Mexican chef Enrique Olvera.
While the economy class offerings are complementary, they’re nothing compared to what’s on deck for business class and first class on Qatar Airways. Located behind the business class cabin, the Qatar Airways bar allows upper class passengers to stretch their legs in an ultra-spacious lounge while sipping on a cocktail or some Krug Champagne alongside Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. Bonus: There’s very little foot traffic in the bar, since flight attendants don’t have to walk past it to serve other passengers, so you won’t ever feel cramped.
For upper class passengers, the boozing experience begins on the ground in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, where guest bartenders from the city’s top bars serve complimentary craft cocktails. Once in the air, guests are greeted with a glass of bubbly, followed by a pre-dinner drink (served on a custom-made cocktail rest) and a liqueur with coffee after dinner. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a swanky full-service bar, accented with Swarovski crystals. The bar serves up classics, signature drinks and barrel-aged cocktails in individual, miniature barrels. We should warn you that the bar is known to get so packed that flight attendants have to turn people away. Don’t worry, economy class passengers—you’ll still get complimentary beer and wine, sans crystals.
While you won’t receive anything for free in economy class aboard Alaska Airlines (all offerings are inclusive for First Class passengers), you can enjoy several craft beverages for a small fee. In addition to the usual suspects, passengers can sample Seattle-produced, small batch Sun Liquor gin, rum and vodka, as well as Oregon-produced Crater Lake hazelnut espresso-flavored vodka, which mixes well with complimentary Starbucks Pike Place Roast coffee. You can also enjoy local Alaskan craft beer and wine from Walla Walla, Washington. Plus, if you think you’re going to miss the nightclub-esque vibe of Virgin America (including its ritzy bar offerings) in the wake of the two airlines’ merger, never fear—Alaska Airlines promise to incorporate Virgin America’s signature “flair” and amenities when the brand is replaced by the Alaskan Airlines fleet in 2019.
Budget airline Southwest promises a happy hour in the sky with their affordable booze lineup that covers all of the bases: Jack Daniel’swhiskey, Tanqueray gin, Bacardi rum, Baileys Irish Cream, Finlandia vodka, Sauza Gold tequila, Dewar’s blended scotch and Wild Turkey bourbon. Southwest’s cocktails might be simple two-ingredient combos of their booze and mixers (such as Vodka Cran-Apple or Baileys with coffee), but for only $5 a pop, we’ll take ‘em. If you happen to be flying on a holiday—which includes Southwest’s birthday on June 18 and the anniversary of their credit card on September 20—the first drink is on Southwest.