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Southwest Weighs Bringing Onboard Booze Back This Spring

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  • Southwest Airlines could return alcohol sales late in the first quarter or in the second quarter, its COO says.
  • The airline and American suspended alcohol sales earlier in the pandemic and extended the pause after a spate of passenger disruptions, including physical assault of crew.

Booze could be coming back to Southwest Airlines planes this spring.

The carrier, which suspended alcohol service in March 2020, scrapped plans to resume sales in May after a spate of passenger disturbances and physical assaults on crewmembers. American Airlines also extended its pause on alcohol sales for its domestic and short-haul international economy cabins at that time.

"We're looking at that here sometime late in the first quarter maybe early in the second quarter," Southwest's COO Mike Van de Ven said on the company's quarterly call Thursday. The airline was planning to bring back onboard service, including alcohol, next month but delayed that plan because of the spread of the omicron Covid variant.

Southwest, which doesn't physically divide its cabin like larger airlines, usually sells alcohol onboard and offers drink tickets to travelers who buy its more expensive "Business Select" fare.

Flight attendant unions have cited passenger intoxication as a factor in a surge in unruly behavior during the pandemic.

Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU 556, which represents Southwest's roughly 16,000 flight attendants, has said alcoholic beverages shouldn't be served while the federal mask mandate is in effect. It is scheduled to expire March 19.

About 70% of the 5,981 reports of unruly passenger behavior the Federal Aviation Administration received last year involved disputes over compliance with the mask mandate.

American Airlines is altering some onboard services under pressure from its flight attendants' union, which argued this month that it would decrease the amount of time passengers have their masks off. American won't offer a second round of beverage service on domestic flights longer than 1,500 miles, but additional drinks are available on request.

It is also consolidating some first-class food courses.

"Together with APFA, we have decided to temporarily modify some onboard service to limit customer touchpoints," American said in a statement. "As we have throughout the pandemic, we will continue to assess ways to thoughtfully return the onboard dining services customers are asking for while keeping safety front and center."

Alaska Airlines also agreed to reduce some onboard service under pressure from the Association of Flight Attendants, cabin crews' union, AFA told members this month.

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