Enthusiastic young male friends with camera phone drinking and taking selfie on airplane. Photo: Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch (Getty)
If you’re anything like us, you’ve been stung by the travel bug. Once you get stung, it’s hard to sit still knowing that there’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. But, in order to see things like the Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls, Big Ben (after they finish fixing it), and the Sydney Harbour Opera House, you have to board a plane.
Let’s face it, flying can be really stressful. The best way we can think of to alleviate the stresses associated with long security lines, flight delays, and annoying passengers is to have a drink (or three). But, you can just bring a 750ml bottle of your favorite booze, crack it open, and start drinking. FAA regulations state that travelers can bring one small quart sized bag of gels, pastes, creams, and liquids as long as each doesn’t exceed 3.4 ounces.
Technically, that means you can bring mini bottles of booze in your carry on. But, that doesn’t mean that–as soon as you find your seat, put your bag away, and buckle your seatbelt–you should crack open one of those bad boys and get your drink on. If you do that, you might be in for a whole world of trouble. It’s a federal crime to open your own bottle of alcohol on a commercial flight. If a member of the flight crew notices your shenanigans he or she can cite you and you’ll have to pay a fairly large fine.
But, fear not. There are other ways to enjoy high-quality spirits and delicious cocktails while you sit in a chair flying through the sky. A much wiser choice than committing a federal crime is to make cocktails using the spirits offered by the flight crew. “Most flights offer a one decent selection from every major category of base spirit including London Dry Gin, Tennessee Whiskey, Bourbon, Scotch, and Vodka,” says Will Benedetto, Cocktail Curator at In Good Company Hospitality. “Rum can be a bit tough as your often relegated to just spiced rums.”
Cognac, Irish cream, and amaretto are also available here and there (amaretto and scotch taste great mixed together). “Alaska carries Crater Lake hazelnut espresso vodka – dump into an iced latte or cold brew coffee purchased in the airport, or just mix with soda water,” says Charlie Gleason, bartender at Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon.
As we mentioned before, you are allowed to carry as many bottles of booze that comfortably can fill one-quart sized Ziploc bag as long as the individual bottles are no more than 3.4 fl ounces.
Packing Tips for Airplane Mixology
“Before flights I’ve mixed Campari and Sweet vermouth together, poured it in a small bottle, and mixed it with a touch of gin to make a Negroni,” says Benedetto. He also mixed a quart of an ounce of simple syrup with angostura bitters to mix with the Tennessee Whiskey he purchased on flights to make Old Fashioneds. “In fact, I’ve even pre-peeled oranges to twist over the drink for a proper in-flight old fashioned.”
You can buy mini bitters bottles, Angostura or “aromatic” bitters are the best all-around, orange bitters work well in many drinks. “Bring a zip-top bag with lemon and lime wedges and strips of orange peel; make simple syrups (flavored or unflavored) and sours mixes and fill TSA-approved carry-on bottles,” says Gleason. “You can pack olives into a small container and fill it with dry vermouth for martinis.”
Travelers should pack honey, sugar packets and bitters. “Most bitters companies have small format bottles that you can get through security,” says JT White, Bartender at Headwaters in Portland, Oregon. “I use Underberg bottles, lemons/limes from the bar in the airport, mint and/or fresh herbs.”
Making a Cocktail on a Plane
“The sky is the limit,” says Benedetto. “And of course, I intended to make that pun.” On a domestic flight to New Orleans with a fellow bartender, he once made a whiskey sour with an egg white. “I packed an uncracked egg, a little vile of simple syrup and lemon juice and purchased an airplane bottle of bourbon on flight.” He even brought his cobbler shaker on the plane. “The most difficult bit was shaking the thing with so little ice but some flight attendants are more accommodating than others.”
For ease and versatility, a suggestion is to make a sour mix at home. “A good-sized chunk of classic cocktails are categorized as sours,” says Gleason. Equal parts fresh citrus juice and simple syrup (which is equal parts water and granulated sugar) to fit into a 3 oz. TSA-approved liquids container should be enough for two cocktails, maybe three depending on the cocktail. “Keep it in the fridge until you head out to the airport and it will be fine all day.”
Made with lemon juice, the mix turns your favorite whiskey into a sour, gin or vodka and soda water into a Collins, and half a mini bottle of gin topped with sparkling wine into a French 75. “Bring a larger cup on the plane and, with a friend, purchase one each vodka, gin, rum, and tequila, mix them together with all of the sours mix, top with cola, you have two rather potent Long Island Iced Teas,” says Gleason.
The cocktail that you make on a plane might depend on where your destination. “If I’m going somewhere tropical, I’m going to keep it light,” says White. “Maybe a Shandy (beer and soda). If I’m going somewhere for work I may make a Bees Knees (gin, lemon, honey) or a Gold Rush (just sub bourbon for the gin).” Another great, easy option is the Bloody Mary. “You can bring a dry mix of salt, pepper, dry horseradish, and a squeeze of lemon.” Says White. Pair that with tomato juice and vodka on board and you are good to go.
Here’s a list of other cocktails that can be easily made on a plane. Old fashion, Mint Julep, Radler, Collins, Mimosa, Martini, Gin & tonic. “I like to add OJ or fresh herbs into my gin & tonic,” says White. “Whiskey and Coffee is also a fan favorite. French 75 if you want to get fancy pants.”
The best advice is to keep it simple. “You don’t want a sticky mess on that tiny tray,” says Gleason. “Try to find a little squirt bottle for packing that pre-made simple syrup, those little wooden coffee stirrers are much more effective than the skinny plastic straws often found in cocktails.” Check airport stores for more interesting mixers. “Coconut water to mix with rum and lime wedges, fancy coffee drinks to spike with whiskey or tequila, flavored sparkling water is also a winner.” Lemonade is basically a sour mix and goes great with whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin, topped with soda water or not. “Keep your expectations low; you’re still drinking out of a flimsy plastic cup on an airplane.”
Another idea if you aren’t sure of your bartending ability on shaky plane is purchasing premade cocktails. Check out to see if Crafthouse cocktails are available on your plane. “Long time bartender Charles Joly created cocktails in a bottle that are available on some planes,” says White. “His Moscow Mule is spot on, even if you aren’t traveling to Russia.” Also look into mini bar travel kits online if you get to the advanced levels.
But, according to White, the most important tip is to always be nice. “Whether it is to the flight attendant or the bartender at the airport, being nice can get you miles ahead when traveling.” He’s had flight attendants comp him rounds just for understanding. “I also always tip when traveling. Even if they don’t accept it the gesture is understood.” Most importantly, don’t get drunk on a plane, save that for your vacation.