New research and paternalistic legislators could threaten our last in-flight comfort.

As anyone who has traveled by plane in the last decade can attest, one of the few—perhaps only—things that make modern commercial flying tolerable is a strong onboard libation. For those lucky enough to travel internationally, the booze is sometimes even free. But could this last vestige of mile-high sanity be snatched from us like a water bottle at an airport security checkpoint? 

Newly released research argues that it should be. The study, published in Thorax by researchers from the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany, concludes that in-flight alcohol can increase the risk of heart attack. While the topline conclusion sounds concerning and compelling, the research itself is less so. 

The researchers used a sampling of a mere 48 people between 18 and 40 years of age, half of whom slept in a sleep lab that mirrored normal on-ground conditions while the other half slept in a lab that simulated high-altitude cabin pressure. On the first night of the test, everyone was instructed to go to bed. On the second night, each group was given the assignment of drinking booze and then passing out. (How one qualifies to become a test subject for a study of this kind is unclear at the time of this writing). The researchers then monitored each group’s heart rate and sleep patterns.

The results showed that those who consumed alcohol and slept in the high-altitude simulation experienced the most heightened heart rates and the lowest oxygen-blood levels while sleeping. The researchers conclude that those with existing cardiac and pulmonary conditions could be in danger—as well as those with sleep apnea and other respiratory ailments—but even healthy individuals were at risk.

“Even in young and healthy individuals, the combination of alcohol intake with sleeping under hypobaric conditions poses a considerable strain on the cardiac system and might lead to exacerbation of symptoms in patients with cardiac or pulmonary diseases,” the researchers state. “Our findings strongly suggest that the inflight consumption of alcoholic beverages should be restricted.”

One might be tempted to brush this off as merely the work of a few teetotalers from across the pond, but as students of the temperance movement know well, prohibitionary brush fires can start with the smallest of sparks. In fact, the in-flight booze ban movement has already begun to catch on in America.

During the COVID pandemic, reports of unruly and intoxicated airplane passengers getting into physical altercations with flight attendants led several airlines to suspend their on-board alcohol service entirely. Despite this built-in market reaction—after all, no airline wants to be the arena for a drunken brawl in the clouds—numerous federal lawmakers inevitably joined the booze ban chorus.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–Ore.) called for a ban on to-go alcohol from airport bars in 2021 after he allegedly watched a fellow passenger order three shots of alcohol in a to-go cup from an airport bar and then board the plane. Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.), citing reports that anti-mask passengers were the ones creating the on-board ruckuses, went on record in support of banning the hard stuff at least temporarily.

The study claiming to show heart and other health risks will likely further embolden the no-alcohol-on-planes crowd. Lost in all of this is the reality that, as Rep. DeFazio’s anecdote shows, many of the unruly passengers that caught media headlines involved those who were already intoxicated upon boarding the plane or brought their own alcohol on board.

Under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, it is already illegal for consumers to imbibe alcohol they bring onto a plane: “No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.” The rule goes on to state that airlines cannot permit already intoxicated passengers to board their planes or serve them more alcohol onboard. 

Therefore, a complete ban on in-flight alcohol would simply be another example of the government implementing more rules to address behavior that is largely already illegal. It also would clearly incentivize more passengers to sneak their own alcohol on board—something that already happened when airlines suspended alcohol service during the pandemic. It doesn’t take a libertarian to understand that if you ban a legal product—like in-flight alcohol service—you will inevitably create a more robust black-market workaround.

A better approach would be to allow airlines to continue selling and serving in-flight alcohol. Like servers at a bar, flight attendants can monitor how much alcohol each passenger has consumed, instead of supercharging an uncontrollable airborne BYOB free-for-all. As for potential health concerns, passengers should be empowered to make their own decisions based on knowing themselves best. Most people already do this in situations such as avoiding air travel after scuba diving or major surgery, and there is no reason they can’t do the same in determining whether to drink before or during a flight.

Some clever travelers have pointed out that the above-mentioned FAA regulation merely says that a person cannot drink alcohol on an airplane unless it is served by airplane staff. This technically suggests that you can bring your own alcohol on board—as long as it’s in a mini bottle—and simply ask your flight attendant to serve it. At least a few airlines appear to be open to this.

Now might be the time to find one such airline, book a flight, and enjoy this Prohibition-era 12-Mile Limit cocktail in defiant—but technically still legal—protest:


  1. Obtain two mini bottles of liquor, each under the 3.4 oz TSA liquid carry-on limit.
  2. Fill one mini bottle with ½ oz rye whiskey and ½ oz cognac, topped off with your favorite rum.
  3. Fill the second mini bottle with ½ oz grenadine and ½ oz lemon juice. Store this bottle in the fridge until leaving for the airport.
  4. Bring both mini bottles on board with you in your carry-on.
  5. Ask your flight attendant to pour the contents of the liquor-filled bottle over a cup of ice.
  6. Add the grenadine and lemon juice mixture to the cup.
  7. Garnish with lemon wedges.
  8. Stir with the provided plastic stirring stick.
  9. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your cocktail (while you still can).