Food & Drink

Drinking on a Plane Is Better Than Drinking on a Train

Mark Yocca

Perhaps it is a nostalgic yearning for simpler times. Perhaps it is because plane tickets are expensive. Or perhaps it’s because the only thing worse than going to the airport is a series of repeated, forced colonoscopies. Whatever the reason, train travel has been enjoying some newfound love with a much broader group than the normal train enthusiasts. One aspect of train travel that seems to be turning people is the opportunity to sip wine or cocktails like they’re taking a Gilded Era trip to their country estate. But, even if almost everything about plane travel remains a pain, drinking on an airplane is still a better drinking experience. Here’s why:

Train People Aren’t Comparing Apples to Apples

The experiences often held up as evidence of the high quality of train drinking are gimmicks. Whiskey trains, wine trains, tequila trains—sure they exist and have a lot to offer. But they are not functional modes of transportation in any meaningful sense. If they weren’t offering amazing whiskey on board, is there any chance you would spend more than $100 to take a two-and-a-half hour ride in a circle through Western Kentucky? You can’t compare a coach seat to Pittsburgh with what is, for all intents and purposes, a locomotive-pulled party bus. Especially because…

You Don’t Need to Get on a Special Plane to Find High Quality Alcohol

If you hop on an Amtrak you’ll find the same ho-hum selection of nips and wine bottles you usually pass over at the liquor store. In contrast, airlines have, in recent years, engaged in a real arms race when it comes to on-board beverages. For example, the recently merged Alaska and Virgin America airlines each have their own set of specialty cocktails, unique beers and local craft or high-end spirits. Internationally, Air France has a wine list curated by Paolo Basso, who was named the best sommelier in the world in 2013, and Japan Airlines offers top shelf Japanese whiskies like Hakushu single malt.     

Lots of Air Travel Comes with Free Drinks

If you are traveling to another country—whether you bought one of those $99 tickets to Iceland or your own personal flying suite with the Jennifer Aniston shower—you get complimentary alcohol. Now, there are no transatlantic train trips to compare these flights to, but even on long haul train trips, if you don’t shell out for a first class seat, which does come with complimentary alcoholic beverages, you have to wander up to the café car to buy a passable beer for $7.50. Even if you’re sitting in economy on a domestic flight and have to pay for your drinks, you’ll still get your deconstructed Gin & Tonic delivered to your seat.

Drinking Your Own Booze on a Train Is Often Against the Rules

While some European and Japanese trains have relatively lax rules with respect to drinking your own alcohol on board, American trains are stricter. On Amtrak trains, while you can bring your own liquids, including alcoholic liquids, on board with you, you can only drink your own alcohol inside a sleeper car. Drinking in any public space, including your own seat, is a no no. Drinking your own alcohol on an airplane is at least a more mixed bag. You can carry unopened bottles of 3.4 ounces or less through TSA screening, but you aren’t allowed to serve yourself. However, at least one carrier, JetBlue, will enthusiastically pour the drinks you bring on board. Other domestic airlines have official policies against it, but if you’re nice, you’ll likely find flight attendants willing to bend the rules for you.

There Are Drinks That Are Actually Improved in an Airplane

It is true that flying messes with you senses of taste and smell, but there are some drinks that actually taste better on a plane than they do on the ground. Bloody Mary anyone?