Alcohol and Flying

Everyone has their own opinion on whether or not you should drink while on a flight. Some people like to take the edge off with a drink or two (or three), while others do not want alcohol or anything else near them at all.

Does alcohol affect you differently in the air vs. on the ground? According to, the answer is yes.

Changes in air pressure, fatigue from flying, and especially dehydration all cause alcohol to be more potent than usual, says Eric Rimm, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Since there’s less water in your blood when you’re dehydrated, the concentration of alcohol will be slightly higher, leading to quicker intoxication and increased potential for a hangover,” Rimm says. “Stick to one drink—and down lots of water.”

What should you drink then? Avoid alcohol and carbonated beverages and stick with water. Carbonated beverages can cause gas and work as a diuretic so you will find yourself in the ever so small lavatory more often than you like. This is what happened to one passenger in 2006 regarding an issue with gas and bloating:

“An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing Monday morning after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of flatulence, authorities said.

The Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Nashville after several passengers reported smelling burning sulfur from the matches, said Lynne Lowrance, spokeswoman for the Nashville International Airport Authority. All 99 passengers and five crew members were taken off and screened while the plane was searched and luggage was screened.

The FBI questioned a passenger who admitted she struck the matches in an attempt to conceal a “body odor,” Lowrance said. She had an unspecified medical condition, authorities said.

“It’s humorous in a way but you feel sorry for the individual, as well,” she said. “It’s unusual that someone would go to those measures to cover it up.”

Now most travelers would never say that the in-flight beverage selection rivals that of any bar on land, some airlines do go out of their way to make their beverage offerings more than the standard beer can and mini-bottle of liquor. One of the great domestic airlines, Virgin America, offers California’s Wente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a cocktail-heavy list that includes mojitos, Cosmos, and even Le Tourment Vert Absinthe.

American Airlines just announced that in December it will offer customers traveling on flights scheduled to depart between 5 PM and 5:59 PM special happy hour drink prices of $5 per drink. That’s a $1 savings and beer and $2 on liquor and wine. The happy-hour drink prices will be offered for the duration of the flight for domestic, Canada, Caribbean, and Mexico flights on American, American Eagle, and AmericanConnection.

“As we wrap up the year, we want to show our customers that we appreciate their business. Offering an in-flight happy hour is our small way of saying thank you,” said Rob Friedman, American’s vice president of marketing.”

Personally, I stick with water or club soda for my flight, but I have occasionally on longer flights or flights where I have been upgraded to business or first class had a drink. I have found that I feel more tired afterwards and so I generally don’t like drinking on flights. Do you drink while flying and if so, what’s your beverage of choice?

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