The Real Reason Airport Bars Might Stop Serving Alcohol To-Go

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many significant changes to everyday life. One such change has been the altering of many state and local alcohol service rules to permit to-go sales of alcoholic beverages, in light of the pandemic's disastrous effect on the restaurant industry and limited indoor dining capacity in many places (per Alcohol Policy). Over the past year, many people have been able to imbibe from the safety of their own homes while still supporting their favorite local bars and restaurants. However, as the country's vaccination rates increase and restaurants have begun opening up to full capacity again, some people and organizations — such as trade organizations representing liquor stores — are hoping states will crack down on to-go alcohol sales, once again banning bars and restaurants from including alcoholic beverages in delivery or pick-up orders (per CNBC). Those who want to end to-go alcohol sales now have a somewhat unusual ally: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). While bars and restaurants inside many airports have also been included in the loosened alcohol service laws, the FAA has just written a letter to airport leaders in the United States, stating that they believe it is necessary for airport locations to stop serving passengers to-go alcoholic beverages before boarding planes (via Food & Wine). In the letter, the FAA cited concerns over the rising rates of hostile and unruly passengers on board aircrafts.

To-go alcohol sales are contributing to unruly airplane behavior

Per Food & Wine, airlines in the United States have reported over 3,700 unruly passengers in the past year, with the majority of them involving a disagreement over mask mandates. The FAA believes increased to-go alcohol sales have played a part in exacerbating hostile and aggressive behavior. While many airlines have already suspending the sale of alcohol on the actual flights (via Forbes), the FAA is calling on airport leaders to help make flights safer by prohibiting the sales of to-go beverages that enable passengers to become inebriated during or before their flights.

"As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports. Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior. The FAA requests that airports work with their concessionaires to help avoid this," FAA administrator Steve Dickson wrote in the letter linked by The Washington Post, adding: " Even though FAA regulations specifically prohibit the consumption of alcohol aboard an aircraft that is not served by the airline, we have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol 'to go,' and passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto their flights or they become inebriated during the boarding process. Airports can help bring awareness to this prohibition on passengers carrying open alcohol on board their flights in 14 CFR 121.575 through signage, public service announcements, and concessionaire education." While to-go alcohol sales may have been a boon to restaurants and customers, concerns over airplane safety means it may be time to bring this COVID-19 adjustment to an end.