Mile High Bartending

The plane has just taken off and you’re settling in for a transcontinental flight. You’re stuck in your seat for a few hours and want a cocktail to take your mind off the long security line or last-minute gate change, but you don’t want the standard rum and coke or gin and tonic. In the highly competitive world of air travel, airlines have started offering premium foods that are locally sourced, prepared by celebrity chefs and paired with wines by a sommelier, but the airlines have not caught up with the craft cocktail craze on the ground.


Serving craft cocktails on an airplane is difficult in such a small space with limited ingredients. When flight attendants are busier than ever and it takes an hour for a normal beverage service, custom cocktails don’t seem likely in the near future. Passengers are not able to bring liquids greater than 3 oz. through security so you can’t bring your home bar with you. Airlines have started to woo cocktail enthusiasts with pre-bottled cocktails and menu suggestions. Southwest Airline’s in-flight menu presents several suggestions for cocktails anyone can make on a tray table like tequila and orange juice or vodka and cran-apple juice. Delta offers for $10 a Blue Chair Bay Island Punch described as “Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum with Orange juice and a splash of Cranberry-Apple juice.” Others like United, offer pre-mixed cocktails like the Crafthouse Cocktails Moscow Mule for $12.99. Though these options are usually uninspired or the same price as buying two bottles of liquor, anyone can make a delicious cocktail on a tray table with a few ingredients.


If you want to put a little more craft into your cocktail, most airlines have other mixes, flavorings and condiments that are complimentary and can add a bit more complexity to your drink. Besides the mixers like Coke, seltzer and juices, try a coffee or tea-based cocktail, such as a French Connection Coffee with equal parts cognac and amaretto topped with hot coffee. Some will have additional options based on whether the route is domestic or international or to a specific region like Hawaii where Alaska offers a passionfruit, orange and guava juice blend. The airline probably stocks other ingredients that are useful for mixing like honey, lemon, coffee creamer and sugar. For a beverage with less alcohol, try a cocktail with champagne or dessert wine, like the Port Cobbler with port, sugar and club soda. The selection varies greatly by airline and by route as well and an international route is more likely to have a bigger menu, and budget airline will have a smaller selection.


Depending on taste, bringing ingredients from home can create more cocktail options. The most valuable ingredient is bitters, such as Angostura. Many cocktails call for bitters and you’re unlikely to find them on board the aircraft. Fortunately, bitters don’t need to be refrigerated and a small bottle (under the 3 oz. security requirements) will last a long time. Keep a tiny dropper bottle in your carry-on and you’ll double your drink options for many future flights. Other ingredients to consider bringing in sealed containers or dropper bottles, depending on taste, are hot sauce (for Bloody Mary), lemon juice, lime juice, preserves (like strawberry or apricot), vermouth (sweet for Manhattans, dry for Martinis), simple syrup (one part sugar and one part water combined for easier mixing.)


When traveling in the US, one of these cocktails could provide a great distraction and impress your seat mate. These recipes based on classic cocktails have ingredients currently available on the airline listed. Menus and ingredients change often, check airline websites just before you go.

Gin Daisy (Southwest Airlines)

For an alternative to a margarita, in a cup of ice, pour over 1 part Tanqueray Gin and 1 part Mr. & Mrs. T Margarita Mix and top with seltzer water or club soda. Variation: replace gin with rum for a Rum Daisy.

Gin Daisy on Southwest

Godfather (American Airlines)

Pour one bottle Dewar’s White Label and one bottle Disaronno Amaretto over ice and stir. Variation: Replace scotch with vodka for a Godmother.

Godfather on American

Dreamsicle (United Airlines)

Pour 1 bottle Baileys Irish Cream in a glass with ice and top with orange juice. Stir.

Dreamsicle on United

Paloma (Virgin America)

Pour 1 bottle Tequila Cazadores Reposado over ice and stir. Top with Fresca. Variation: Make a Greyhound by swapping the tequila for vodka.

Paloma on Virgin America

Bay Breeze (Jet Blue)

Pour 1 bottle Tito’s Vodka over ice. Add a splash of pineapple juice and fill with cranberry juice. Variation: For a Sea Breeze, replace the pineapple juice with grapefruit juice or for a more tropical option, try rum.

Bay Breeze on Jet Blue

Colorado Bulldog (Alaska Airlines)

In a glass of ice pour over one bottle of Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka and two creamer cups (the type served with coffee.) Stir until combined then top with cola.

Colorado Bulldog on Alaska

Champagne Cocktail (Delta Airlines)

If you brought bitters, empty one packet of white sugar in a glass. Saturate with several dashes of bitters and stir to combine. Top with champagne.

Champagne Cocktail on Delta