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Nice Try, But You Can't Bring Your Own Booze to Drink on a Plane

Unless you want to pay a fine of up to $11,000, according to a flight attendant.

by Jelisa Castrodale
May 19 2017, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Aidan Mak

I am terrified of flying, despite my best attempts at being rational and being heavily medicated. A couple of years ago, when I was packing for one awful-sounding nine-hour flight, I realized that those TSA-approved refillable shampoo bottles could just as easily be filled with bourbon, and filled my clear quart-sized bag with as many of them as it would hold. I think I enjoyed the flight. Apparently, I also committed a federal crime.

Although the TSA does allow passengers to take alcohol onboard (provided that it's less than 140 proof), the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the consumption of any booze that wasn't served by a member of the flight crew. So as brilliant as my idea sounded in theory, in practice, it was both illegal and potentially very, very expensive.

"It's just like a bar," flight attendant Celessa Dietzel recently told Business Insider. "You wouldn't bring your own booze into a bar." (Um, wouldn't I? I might, if my local charged $8.99 for a mini-bottle of Baileys...just like United Airlines does.)

Dietzel said that although you can take your own tiny bottles onto the plane, you cannot and should not consume them. "It's just a big no-no," she said. "That's just bad etiquette, and it's a huge Federal Aviation regulation and up to an $11,000 fine, so it's a very expensive drink, so just don't do it."

I'm gonna ignore the bad etiquette aspect because it's also bad etiquette to clip your toenails on a plane, but my seatmate did that on a flight from Paris last month. But she's right about the rest of it: According to Section 121.575 of the FAA's Code of Flight Regulations, no one "may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him." So it's off-limits unless it came from the beverage cart, regardless of the ridiculous markup.

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"A violation of the FAA regulation on alcoholic beverages would warrant a civil penalty of up to $11,000 ($13,066 with inflation adjustments)," an FAA spokesperson confirmed to MUNCHIES.

Why is the FAA such a group of professional buzzkillers? The explanation is more or less in that same section of the CFR code. The FAA has ruled that airlines cannot allow any passenger to board a flight if he or she appears intoxicated, and if you look like you're shitfaced, the flight crew is not allowed to serve you any additional drinks. By insisting that the flight crew doubles as bartenders, they can presumably keep track of how much booze everyone has consumed and prevent someone from being incapacitated and/or a safety risk. (The FAA said that any such unruly passenger conduct could result in a penalty of up to $25,000—or up to $34,731 with inflation adjustment).

If you're caught pouring your own drinks, there's a reasonably good chance your travels might end before your buzz wears off. On one Southwest flight, for example, a group of passengers were busted with their own stash and, when they wouldn't stop drinking it, the pilot said "KIDS, I WILL TURN THIS PLANE AROUND" (we're paraphrasing) and it returned to the departure airport. The passengers were kicked off and everyone else had to endure a two-hour delay.

View From the Wing says that you can ask if a member of the flight crew will serve your own carry-on booze to you, but that's probably not going to happen. When turbulence hits, that $9 bottle of Bailey's doesn't seem so bad, anyway.