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3 Vodka Cocktails You Can Make from an Airplane Beverage Cart

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David Saracino

You don’t have to be a frequent flyer to know that air travel has become, uh, less pleasant in recent years. From the crowded airports to the shrinking legroom and diminishing services of economy class, there’s been a downturn that even occasional travelers have noticed. And you’re getting ready for your annual flight to Gam Gam’s for the holidays—what to do? Well, you can optimize your seat location (try the first row behind first class—more legroom); you can pack a quality travel pillow; or you can ply the flight attendants with chocolates in hopes of top service (really; people do this). You can also try our favorite option: leveling up the in-flight drinking choices.

Chances are, your flight attendant does not have a mixology background. If you want to drink anything more sophisticated than a rum and cola, you have to channel your inner Bear Grylls. But you can definitely pull this off. “If you plan ahead, and if you take advantage of all the juices and garnishes on a beverage cart,” says New York-based mixologist John McCarthy, “you can pull together all kinds of cocktails, even in the air.”

Here are three vodka cocktails perfectly suited to flying—whether you’re sourcing from the ingredients onboard or willing to put a little forethought into your in-flight imbibing.

David Saracino

Airplane Mule

The Moscow Mule is a classic for a reason: Its ginger-lime-vodka combo is simple, easy, and delicious.

Standard: Every beverage cart has vodka; every beverage cart has ginger ale; and most airlines stock little lime triangles to garnish their sparkling water or vodka-sodas. Ask for a handful of these and—boom—you have everything you need. Fill your plastic cup a little more than halfway with ginger ale and ice, add 1.5 oz of vodka, squeeze several of those lime triangles on top, and stir with your straw. Save one lime triangle for garnish.

Deluxe: Pick up a Moscow Mule carry-on cocktail kit before you fly. They come with a little vial of intense small-batch ginger syrup, which will add some serious ginger kick to your mule. There’s also a recipe card, a barspoon, a .5 oz jigger, and a linen coaster to make you feel first class even if you’re in economy. For a next-next-level step: bring your own Moscow Mule mug aboard—there’s no reason it shouldn’t clear TSA in your carry-on.

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Vodka Cocktails You Can Make from Airplane Beverage Cart | Smirnoff
Mark Yocca/ Supercall

Of the millions of air travelers this holiday season, how many will have the inside information they need to transform their cramped seat in coach into a mini craft-cocktail bar? With your airplane bottle of Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka, and a few ingenious hacks, you’re like a cocktail ninja. Enjoy your trip. We know you will.

David Saracino

Air Cape Cod

In its classic form, the Cape Codder is vodka, cranberry, and fresh lime juice.

Standard: Can you achieve a classic Cape Codder at 30,000 feet? You bet you can. Ask your flight attendant for a handful of those lime triangles, in a plastic cup. Then order a cranberry juice, an airplane bottle of vodka, and another cup, with ice. Add juice to the ice, squeeze limes over top (setting one aside), add 1.5 oz of vodka, and stir. Garnish with lime. If your attendant balks at loading you up with limes, well, a vodka-cran still qualifies as a Cape Codder.

Deluxe: Level up the Cape Codder with soda, which adds just the right amount of effervescence. Repeat the steps above, but add a can of club soda to your order (smile a lot as you place the order, and be thankful you smoothed the way with that box of chocolates. You did give the crew a box of chocolates, didn’t you?). After you top your creation with soda and garnish with lime, snap a few photos to Instagram when you land. If cranberry’s not exciting enough for you—and you’re a planner-aheader—bring a small container (3.4 oz or less) of pomegranate juice and add that to the mix. A cranberry-pomegranate Cape Codder, with fresh lime to boot? That’s craft-cocktail bar–worthy.

David Saracino

Flying Bloody Mary

Taking a late-morning flight? Complement your airplane “brunch” with a bona fide Bloody Mary.

Standard: Tomato juice and vodka are staples on every plane. They’re your building blocks here. Now, collect citrus from the beverage cart—lemon is preferred but lime will do—and a packet of pepper from your airplane “brunch.” Combine these ingredients over ice, stir, and sit back to enjoy both the flavorful cocktail and your own resourcefulness.

Deluxe: To dramatically improve your in-flight Bloody, you have two options. One is to go online and order a Bloody Mary carry-on cocktail setup, which comes with a spicy mix, mini-pickles and salt for the rim. The other is to go full MacGyver: Before you fly, pick up a mini bottle of Tabasco sauce (they come in TSA-compliant sizes); grab a ziplock bag and combine fresh-cracked ground pepper, salt, celery salt and celery seed; finally, pack some garnish in another ziplock bag, anything from olives to citrus wedges to small celery stalks—or all of the above.

None of these steps takes longer than a couple of minutes, and they will be more than worth it: After assembling your Bloody base, dash in as much heat from the Tabasco as you want, sprinkle in a little of your salt-pepper-celery combo, top with garnishes, and you’re in business.