Can you drink your own alcohol on your flight?

A few days ago I was reading an article on travel tips, one of which (#28) suggested rather expressly that you could carry alcohol mini-bottles through TSA security, pop them open on your flight and have a party, and save some money in the process. I carry mini-bottles all the time on the plane, but I do not drink them. In the comments section of the latest article I read, a few people indicated that TSA rules and the TSA website do not say anything about not being able to drink on the plane, while many other people indicated that you cannot drink your own alcohol on a plane, unless you want to risk a fine, getting kicked out of the plane, or both.

Savings

Since there seemed to be some disagreement as to what is allowed and what isn’t, I decided to do my own research and publish what I found here, which is the following:

– You can carry your own alcohol mini bottles through security check points on your carry on.

– You absolutely CANNOT drink your own alcohol on the plane. You will be fined and get in serious trouble.

Carrying on:

TSA guidelines allow for liquids of 3 ounces or less, as long as they fit on a quart-size, clear, plastic ziplock back, which you will have to take out of your carry-on during the screening process, along with your laptop, etc, unless you have TSA pre-check. Alcohol falls under this category, although there are certain alcohol types that aren’t allowed at all, depending on level of alcohol content. Your typical rum, vodka, whiskey, wine, etc. can be passed through security.

Here are the TSA 3-1-1 rules, which you can find on their website (Italics are TSA text).

3-1-1 for carry-ons. Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less per container; must be in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. The bag limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring.

Alcohol purchased at duty free shops in the terminal can also be carried on, under certain conditions, which are the following (Italics are TSA’s text):

You may now carry liquids more than 100 mL in your carry-on bag if:

  • You are traveling internationally into the United States with a connecting flight;
  • they are in transparent containers;
  • you bought them at a duty-free shop, and
  • the store packed them in a secure, tamper-evident bag.

If your liquids are not in a secure, tamper-evident bag, you must pack them in your checked bag.

Drinking your own alcohol on the plane:

Sorry folks, but this is something that just isn’t allowed. Some people have the misconception that since the TSA rules are silent about drinking your own alcohol, then it must be allowed. TSA rules do not mention anything about alcohol consumption on board because alcohol consumption on an aircraft is NOT regulated by the TSA, but instead is regulated by the FAA.

FAA guidelines clearly state that aircraft operators (that would be the airline, its employees and crew) cannot allow a person to consume their own alcohol onboard unless that alcohol has been served by a member of the crew. Here is the FAA text, which you can read in its entirety here. Bold print added by me for emphasis:

§121.575   Alcoholic beverages.

(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.

(b) No certificate holder may serve any alcoholic beverage to any person aboard any of its aircraft who—

(1) Appears to be intoxicated;

(2) Is escorting a person or being escorted in accordance with 49 CFR 1544.221; or

(3) Has a deadly or dangerous weapon accessible to him while aboard the aircraft in accordance with 49 CFR 1544.219, 1544.221, or 1544.223.

(c) No certificate holder may allow any person to board any of its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated.

(d) Each certificate holder shall, within five days after the incident, report to the Administrator the refusal of any person to comply with paragraph (a) of this section, or of any disturbance caused by a person who appears to be intoxicated aboard any of its aircraft.

This rule is just common sense. It is no different than a bartender on the ground at any bar you go to. The bartender, and in this case the flight attendants, need to keep tabs on you as to how many drinks you’ve had, so they can cut you off if needed if they feel that you are significantly impaired and as such can interfere with the crew, create a safety hazard or be a danger to yourself and others, not listen to crew instructions, and not being able to quickly evacuate the aircraft during an emergency. If you’re drinking your own alcohol and they don’t know about it, they cannot keep tabs on how much you’ve had to drink until it is too late.

What happens if you drink your own alcohol on board:

If a flight attendant or another member of the crew catches you drinking your own alcohol, they are not allowed to look the other way (even though some might). As mentioned in the text I bolded above, they are required to file a report within 5 days of the incident. Once the report is filed, the penalties are very steep, upwards of $1,000.

What to do:

The best and wisest thing to do is simply not drink your own alcohol on board. Saving the $5-$7 is simply not worth the risk. Now, some people argue that the rule simply says that the crew is required to serve you the alcohol, which means that you could theoretically give your alcohol to the crew and ask them to serve it for you, so they can keep tabs on how much you’ve had to drink.

I’ve personally asked several flight attendants what they do in this situation, and they have given me mixed answers. The last flight attendant I spoke to said that he would be inclined to say no, just because it would still be possible for someone to fault the airline if that person would finish off a bottle at the terminal, drive home and kill someone, and it could be questionable as to how much the crew had served them at any point. He told me that no one had asked him to serve them alcohol before and that it was an interesting point, and that he would find out if there was a specific policy or rule about it. Another flight attendant on the same flight also told me that she had never been asked before either.

In the end, each airline has different policies, and while some crew might be able to serve you your own alcohol on some carriers, others might simply not allow it. The liability is too great for them when you involve alcohol. It’s a lawyer’s dream.

At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with asking, and if you do take your alcohol onboard and ask the flight attendant to serve it for you, and they agree, then you’re off the hook. The worst they can say is no. However, it is absolutely clear and not subject to interpretation that you are NOT allowed to serve yourself your own alcohol on board, and the FAA text clearly states so. As I mentioned before, you could sneak it into that coke while no one is looking, but what if the person sitting next to you is an Air Marshal? Oops! Is the risk of getting caught worth the $5-$7 savings? That only you can decide for yourself.

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