Southwest Airlines has officially reinstated alcohol on board after a two-year ban amid mask mandates and the rise of unruly passenger reports.
It comes as the low-cost-carrier has seen increased demand for a wider selection of drinks in recent months.
Despite this, a Southwest Airlines flight attendants union has said the decision is “both unsafe and irresponsible” according to a statement seen by Reuters, as members have been the primary target of violent behavior from passengers.
Beginning 16 February, Southwest will return a wide selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages for certain flights.
“Customers have expressed a desire for more beverage options, so we’re delighted to restore additional on-board offerings as a part of the Southwest hospitality that our customers know and love,” said Tony Roach, vice-president for customer experience and customer relations.
The options will include favorites such as sparkling wine, chardonnay, vodka, lime vodka, wild turkey, rum, tequila and more, according to Southwest.
On the same day, other drinks will become available again such as tonic water, apple juice, Coke Zero, hot tea, hot cocoa and more on flights 176 miles and over.
Customers whose Southwest drink coupons expired in 2020 and 2021 can redeem the voucher for an alcohol beverage until 32 December this year.
It comes only a week after the company alluded to the resumption of alcohol in a quarterly results call, but the decision has finalised earlier than expected, as COO Mike Van de Ven said the airline was looking at sometime late in the first quarter or early second.
The ban was first imposed in March 2020 when the pandemic first began, and early in June alongside American Airlines, Southwest pledged to continue the suspension due to violent passengers towards crew members.
In one particular incident, a crew member was brutally beaten by a customer on a Southwest flight to Sacramento, which spurred the decision to extend the ban.
Meanwhile, unions are still urging airlines to avoid lifting the ban before the mask mandate is lifted – scheduled for 19 March – due to the high number of unruly passengers over the federal requirement.
“TWU Local 556 is outraged at Southwest Airlines’ resumption of alcohol sales,” said TWU Local 556 president Lyn Montgomery to Reuters.
“We have adamantly and unequivocally informed management that resuming sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer non-compliance and misconduct issues,” she added.