Southwest Airlines may serve alcohol on board in spring

Southwest Airlines is considering bringing back booze on flights this spring after scraping the service early on in the pandemic

During an earnings call Thursday, CEO Gary Kelly said the carrier is looking to bring back the service either “late in the first quarter, maybe early in the second quarter.”

Kelly noted that the company had intended to bring back service in the middle of February but delayed plans due to the uptick in coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant.

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It wasn’t the first time the carrier delayed its plans. In the spring of 2021, Southwest decided against bringing it back after an increase in incidents of unruly passengers.

The airline was planning to resume selling alcohol in June on Hawaii flights and in July on other flights, a move that was questioned by the president of the union representing Southwest flight attendants.

Holiday passengers departing Chicago’s Midway International Airport check-in and retrieve bag tags as a Southwest Airlines flight arrives Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Newsroom)

“Given the recent uptick in industry-wide incidents of passenger disruptions inflight, we have made the decision to pause the previously announced re-start of alcohol service,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said, adding that the decision was “in the interest of the safety and comfort of all customers and crew onboard.”

In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration said the biggest single proposed fine, topping $40,000, involves a passenger who brought alcohol on the plane and drank it, smoked marijuana in the lavatory, and sexually assaulted a flight attendant on a Southwest Airlines jet in April.

In August, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson even issued a warning letter to airports saying there was a correlation between the uptick in unruly passengers and alcohol.

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“The FAA adopted a Zero-Tolerance policy toward this behavior on airplanes earlier this year, and we are taking the strongest possible action within our legal authority. But we need your help,” Dickson wrote in the letter.

Dickson said that the agency’s “investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior” and drew concern over alcohol to-go cups being served at airports.

Passengers wait to check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at the Portland Jetport, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

“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,'” Dickson added.

According to Dickson, passengers either carry the drink on board, which is against federal law, or “they become inebriated during the boarding process.”

In 2021, the airlines reported nearly 6,000 cases of unruly passengers to the FAA.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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