Customers have "expressed a desire for more beverage options," as the airline's customer relations chief so politely put it. The flight attendants' union is worried passengers won't be so well mannered following a few drinks after take-off.
Southwest Airlines Co will resume alcohol sales on its flights this month after nearly two years, the Texas-based carrier said on Thursday, a pause it extended last year due to a surge in in-flight disruptions by passengers.
U.S. airlines during the Covid-19 pandemic had mostly suspended in-flight services on domestic flights to avoid having passengers remove their masks while eating or drinking.
Southwest, which had paused alcohol services in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, said that it would resume the sale of the beverages on Feb. 16.
The beverages would include wine, vodka, tequila, rum, on most of its flights of 176 miles (283.24 km) or more. The airline also said it will add a new line-up of non-alcoholic beverages like tonic water, apple juice, Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, hot tea, and hot cocoa.
“Customers have expressed a desire for more beverage options,” Tony Roach, vice president customer experience and customer relations, said in a statement.
The union, which represents Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants, said the move is “both unsafe and irresponsible.”
“TWU Local 556 is outraged at Southwest Airlines’ resumption of alcohol sales,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556 said in a statement when contacted by Reuters.
“We have adamantly and unequivocally informed management that resuming sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer non-compliance and misconduct issues.”
Southwest did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the union’s statement.
Southwest’s decision to extend the pause on alcohol services last year came following an incident where a passenger assaulted a flight attendant verbally and physically, during a flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
U.S. airlines have reported a record number of disruptive and sometimes violent incidents in 2021, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has pledged a “zero-tolerance” approach towards unruly air passengers.
(Reporting by Akriti Sharma and Shivani Tanna in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)
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Photo credit: Southwest paused alcohol services in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines