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The problem with BYOB on flights

You can bring your own alcohol, but it better stay in your bag

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

When airlines cut back on alcohol service on flights during the pandemic, some passengers figured they would still find a way to partake, do-it-yourself style.

Big problem for the BYOB crowd: That solution is very much against the rules.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, regulations “prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol on board the aircraft unless it is served by the air carrier.” It is a way for flight attendants to make sure passengers aren’t getting served too much alcohol — and an effort to avoid the kind of in-flight disruptions that intoxicated passengers can cause.

Over the past few months, the agency has proposed fines against 13 passengers for behavior including consumption of alcohol that wasn’t served by the airline during a flight.

Airline passengers are behaving worse than ever. One proposed solution? Ban alcohol.

The Transportation Security Administration has pointed out fliers can carry on alcohol as long it is 3.4 ounces or less, can fit in a quart-sized bag and is under 70 percent alcohol by volume.

Duty-free alcohol can go in carry-on bags, but busting that open during a flight is also a non-starter.

“Our airline partners and the FAA ask that you don’t drink your own booze while flying,” the agency said in a blog post. “Let’s leave the pouring to the pros! And be sure to check your airline’s website to make sure they are cool with being a designated flyer for your hooch.”

Travel writers have pointed out a loophole in the past: Passengers could ask a flight attendant to pour a drink from the traveler’s own stash. At one time, JetBlue even said publicly that in-flight crew would be happy to do so, Condé Nast Traveler reported in 2017.

That is no longer the case. The carrier told The Washington Post recently that personal alcohol is not allowed to be consumed on its flights and that “all alcohol must be sold and served by an in-flight crew member.”

Likewise, American Airlines said gate agents will not let customers carry open containers with alcohol onto a plane, and flight attendants will not pour personal alcohol. Southwest, United and Delta have similar rules.

Airlines have seen an unprecedented rise in disruptive passengers. Experts say it could get worse.

Gilbert Ott, founder of the travel blog God Save The Points, has written about airline BYOB in the past — and has done it successfully in places including the United Kingdom and United States.

“In the U.S., it was always this kind of wink-and-a-nod thing,” he said. He said JetBlue was especially amenable to serving alcohol he had brought on board.

But that was “B.C.,” he said, before covid-19. Airlines cut back on alcohol sales in the early days of the pandemic, and some have continued to suspend them amid a rise in unruly passenger behavior.

“I think so much has changed with the air rage now that it’s just a completely different proposition,” he said.

Ott said he is not sure how widely known it is that air travelers aren’t allowed to guzzle their own mini bottles during a flight.

“I think that most people assume that what they do with the contents of their bag is at their own discretion, the same way you’d bring a bag of mixed nuts on the plane,” he said. “I think there’s definitely a lack of awareness or thought behind it.”