Mini Bottles and Duty Free

I’ve been seeing this more and more in Canada. The duty free stores at all the major airports have started selling those 50ml mini bottles of spirits. When passengers see them they think “Oh that’d be perfect for my flight!” So of course they buy 5 or 6 of them and simply pop them into their carry on bag. 2 hours later we’re 35,000 feet in the air and I have an intoxicated passenger who I haven’t served, yet am still legally responsible for.

The thing is, I don’t really blame the passenger. I blame the duty free store. Sure the passenger is responsible for buying the item and drinking it on the plane, but I think the DF stores have been feeding the flames, and they need to stop.

If you’ve seen these things at the DF store, it was probably at the register where they’re sold as impulse items. I think the whole idea is so that the passenger sees it, makes the connection that they could easily take it on the plane with them, and doesn’t have much time to think through the implications of what they’re doing.

Once they’ve bought the minis. They’re sold on the idea. We can make announcements to our hearts content, but passengers still drink them.

When I catch people with their own minis (Which is a lot harder to do than catching someone with a 1L bottle) I naturally take it away. Unfortunately they usually have more in their bag. And while I can ask if they have more and try to get them to surrender the bottles, I can’t actually do anything about it unless I physically see them. This makes it extremely difficult to cut someone off who’s been drinking these things.

Here’s the kicker though; every time I’ve taken a mini bottle away from a passenger they tell me the cashier told them they can drink it on the plane.

Let me reiterate that: The cashier told the passenger that they can drink their own alcohol on the plane. Every. Single. Time.

It’s insane. While I know most passengers know better, I also know many do not. Especially at my airline where we cater to vacation travelers. Most of whom don’t fly often or have never flown before.

“Okay; so what’s big deal”, you might say, “Why can’t passengers drink their own booze on the plane? You’re just trying to sell your own product” (I get this a lot when taking peoples alcohol away).
First I want to point out that for every drink sold at my airline, the flight attendant earns $0.06. It is not worth my time to worry about commissions on alcohol sales. There are three things I care about when I catch someone drinking on the plane

1) The safety and security of the aircraft. I will not tolerate loud boisterous behaviour. I will not allow threats to other passengers or crew. I will not allow physical violence on my plane. As such I will control your alcohol intake by only allowing you to purchase it from our bar.

2) I am ultimately responsible for you. Whether or not you drink our booze or your own booze. It’s my job on the line when you are over served. I can have charges pressed against me if you get off the plane drunk and get into a car accident or otherwise get into trouble.

3) It’s the law. At the end of the day, it’s simply illegal to drink your own alcohol aboard a commercial airliner. Same as at a restaurant, a bar, or really any public space. The only difference is I can’t ask you to leave while we’re at cruising altitude.

Understandably I (and many other FAs at my airline) have complained to my airline about the sales of these mini-bottles at the duty free stores. My airline, in turn, announced that they’ll be complaining to the airport authorities. It’s my hopes that we’ll stop seeing these mini-bottles on the shelves at airports. Although I doubt that’ll be happening any time soon.

2 thoughts on “Mini Bottles and Duty Free

  1. Hi “Jet” and i is always nice to see a fresh post from TGW.
    I agree with most of your thoughts about those DF mini bottles and certainly all of your service and safety concerns. That said, I think you are missing some part of the ‘cultural’ experience… Until just a very few years ago, mini bottles were not available at retails, DF or otherwise, in any but a tiny number of countries. Going back more year than you have on your (total) clock, those ‘cute’ mini bottles were passes out free, even in coach, two per seat; if one wants more, we’ll see… Then they were a dollar each, at least in coach. I know, looooong before your time. As I recall it, the most common tradition was to drink one and take the other home as a novelty item. And yes, I recognize that the rules as well as the expectations for reasonable behavior have changed.
    Today, most pax can buy spirits aboard – or obtain them ‘free’ toward the front of the airplane. Those who pay for their individual cocktails are soaked truly abusive prices, so cabin crews can expect that serious drinkers will attempt to provide their own supply. Some are modest and get by under your radar and the genuine abusers soon become known.
    Regulations and rules about consuming one’s own beverages vary by airline, nation and even flying region, but as far as I know, IACO (ICAO?) still has no indunstry-wide policy on the subject.
    My best guess is that at least half of your mini-bottle ‘smuggling’ pax are not genuine drunks, but simply trying to avoid the new disgusting charges for a single shot of spirits, not satisfying a habit or trying to cause trouble. In some quarters access to those mini bottles is still a novelty, one not seen beyond the airlines. Many of those folks may buy their ‘six-pack of minis,’ consume one and take five home as status symbols – for someone. And yes, of course, the abusers do occur. My thought is that as the senior attendant, Cabin Manager, you should evaluate these folks on their behavior (and odor – I you consider yourself an expert), not by mere possession. And lastly…
    If judged only from numerous photographs over the last year, FAs may wish to spend a bit more time emphasizing evacuation safety – leaving hand baggage behind, than fussing about self-provided cocktails. I know that your Company Policy will not permit any Safety Lecture mention of “Evacuation,” but for God’s sake, screw the luggage and get OUT if an evacuation becomes necessary. “Too rare to bother with…’ is the common line. I can tell you that If I’m ever require to evacuate via slide, and see some idiot in front of me trying to manage THREE carry one bags, I will rip them from his/her hands and PUSH the SOB forward – or out the side hole, with the last ounce of my strength. If they get a bruise, I don’t much care! Excess liquor is not good, but perhaps you should focus on better safety instructions. And yes, I well understand that what you say is airline policy, not necessarily what you think. Evacuation are extremely rare. I doubt that you have been through a real one. I have, it was necessary and it worked well, simply because everyone understood the urgency. The flying world has changed during your tender lifetime, but I’m not sure that you and your colleagues understand the importance of organized speed, not bags – AND the need to make that happen – quickly.
    In the end, I suspect that your airline’s Official Policy and SOP is missing a few important points and/or may be considering some items in less than ideal order of priority. Please, think it through a bit and thank you for sharing your views.
    I hope that you never have to proceed through a necessary evacuation. If you do, you will quickly come to understand that ANY position on a functional slide is satisfactory, even head-first or tossed if necessary. Get them out, and to hell with the bags. And yes, drunks may get tossed or go head-first, but they will be off the airplane and won’t slow anyone else.
    Great post and best regards – as always…
    -CG

    • I suspect your discussion of evacuation and bags has something to do with that US Airways flight 1702. I’ll be the first one to say I was appalled and even angered at the site of that woman (and other passengers) who took their bags with them during the evacuation.

      I imagined myself as the FA in that situation. My first thought was if I saw someone try to take their bags with them would be to grab the bags from their hands and throw them out the door (over and away from the slides). But in doing that am I not just further slowing the evacuation? Am I risking getting myself pushed out the door before I can help everyone off the plane? Honestly I’m still undecided if it’s better to take the bags away vs. letting the pax leave with them if they’ve already made it to the door. In any event, my airline stresses in the safety briefing and especially in the evacuation commands that passengers must leave all their belongings behind. And we my airline does use the “E” word in all its passengers briefings, emergency and normal alike.

      I should write a piece about our evacuation procedures, and how we are prepared as cabin crew. I think you may be surprised by how much focus we put into knowing these procedures for each and every flight. For instance, during critical phases of flight we are required to be silent in our jumpseats while reviewing our evacuation signals, commands, and procedures in our heads. We also pick out which passengers we’ll use as “able bodied persons” at this time.

      I think the discussion of evacuation procedures strays way too far away from the point of my original article. As you can see it’s easy to start off with one topic and end up way over in left field. Hence why I didn’t even touch evacuation and the risks associated with intoxicated pax in the event of one.

      As a side note I’ll also point out that the mini’s we sell on the plane cost the same as those available in the duty free. Although I wouldn’t expect our passengers to know that. Most airlines DO charge more, just not us.

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