Major Airlines, Ranked by Their Booze

Let's be honest: for many of us, the key to flying is downing a couple of strong drinks and zoning out until you've landed safely at your destination. It's a tense experience, and we all know that alcohol is the greatest stress reliever. Especially when you're in the stratosphere.

Even the harshest turbulence, longest delays, and shrillest infants can be counteracted with the right cocktail, beer, or wine. But when it comes to tank-like rolling bar carts, not all jets are equal. We looked into the eight most popular US-based airlines and ranked them by their onboard alcohol selection because a flight is only as smooth as the drinks being served.

<a href="">withGod</a> / shutterstock

Members of the frequent-flyer club and premium-ticket holders -- the people who always get thanked by the pilot instead of you -- can get one free drink and snack. But the selection here, free or not, is pretty meh. Dos Equis and Sam Adams are the highbrow beers from the list, and probably a safer bet than the sparkling wine, an item with the unhelpful menu description of… "sparkling wine." In a word: meh.  

The conventional beer list is nothing unexpected and is best enjoyed on international flights when it's free, because free beer always tastes better. The signature cocktail is the Moscow mule, but at $13 a pop, you're better off going for the cheaper straight spirit and creating your own "cocktail" with a can of ginger ale. On the plus side, the straight-booze menu includes some premium options for an extra dollar, including a couple of good whiskeys like Glenfarclas single-malt Scotch and Buffalo Trace bourbon. There's even Courvoisier for any cognac lovers/Busta Rhymeses.

What Frontier lacks in selection, it makes up for in creativity, offering combo packs that include two different alcohols, for the discerning in-flight mixologist/excellent seat neighbor who wants to make a friend the old-fashioned way. Throw in some unexpected selections like a dry-hopped pear cider, New Belgium's Fat Tire amber, and artisan vodka and whiskey from Breckenridge Distillery and you've got a pretty decent party at 20,000ft.

This passenger favorite is known for keeping to schedules, which is a sad thing to get excited about… and can greatly reduce the desire to drink. That might explain the comparatively limited options -- but those limited options are on point. The beer and wine selection is solid (Segura Viudas cava and Brooklyn Brewery are the surprises on the list) and should please a wide range of flyers, including minor beverage snobs (it does a lot of JFK-SFO, after all). The only place love is lost? No tequila. But it's a lot of love to lose.

A decent list of spirits, wine, and beer is mostly standard, with a few craft brands like Tito’s and Anchor Steam. While the sugary cocktail mixers sound like a passport to Hangover City, it's still nice to have the option to indulge in Funkin margaritas, because there's no judgment above 35,000ft. The real points here come from being able to order your drinks from the screen in front of your seat, with the option to send drinks and snacks to other passengers… there's nothing like breaking the ice on a continental flight with a surprise glass of prosecco. This is where an airplane meets a singles bar… right down to the mood lighting and catchy music.

Delta recently upped its wine and beer game by working with a high-profile Master of Wine to consult on the selections, which is great for beer fans. Cocktail fans, well… hey, it has a few, one of which was the winner of a flight attendant/bartender competition and includes Irish cream and honey whiskey… so, um, maybe go with beer. Or straight spirits, which include a weirdly well-stocked whiskey roster. Be aware, there's no liquor on flights less than 250 miles, but that's like half an hour, so... yeah, we don't get it either.

The two specialty cocktails -- Moscow mule and Ginger Sunrise -- are designed to please any weary passenger. The straight-liquor list is bare bones, but covers all the major categories. It's refreshing to see stuff like  hazelnut espresso vodka that actually mixes well with the complimentary Starbucks. The Washington State wine list is very hipster, and the beer selection (free on select flights, which helps if you're on a puddle jumper going across the Pacific Northwest) features Alaskan beer, plus selections from the country of your destination. Alaska: the new frontier of airline booze.

These guys understand that people want easy toss-back options. The wide array of no-brainer cocktails -- bourbon & ginger, classic screwdriver, Baileys & coffee, vodka cran-apple, and more -- is a nod to your favorite college dive in the best possible way. Oh, and more importantly, all drinks are $5, including the beer and wine. That isn't exactly breaking any new ground, but hey, $5 for a Fat Tire or a Jack & ginger is cheaper than most bars outside the airport and about half the price of a drink in the terminal. Southwest is basically a mile-high happy hour, but with considerably more discomfort and longer bathroom lines. Just mind your step when you're de-boarding. Alcohol and vertigo can be a terrible pair.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Tess Rose Lampert is an enthusiastic world traveler who strives to sample as many in-flight drink options as possible.