The Airplane Flask

Say it ain’t so: It’s illegal.

Article by Fred Minnick

As I boarded the plane to Las Vegas, the flight attendant started his usual pleasantries: “Thank you for flying with Southwest. Please put your personal bag underneath the seat and larger carry-on in the overhead bin…” If you’re a frequent traveler, these words are white noise, and I haven’t paid attention to what they’re saying since I took my first-born on a flight. When I was in super-dad mode, I was a safety guardian.

But after all the “blah blah” commentary, the attendant said something that absolutely stopped me. “As a reminder, it’s against federal regulations to bring and consume your own alcohol on a flight.”

What? You mean sneaking a flask on the plane is illegal?

All these years, I was violating federal law by carrying those 2 ounces onto the plane. Now, I’m a law-abiding citizen, an Iraq War veteran, and generally a good guy, but I don’t mind a little bootlegging booze here and there. Perhaps it’s my years of researching the minor act that makes me somehow feel close to the great bootleggers I researched for my books Whiskey Women and Bourbon.

When I queried the flight attendant about the rule, he told me that it is a little like speeding. It’s on the books, but nobody really enforces it. Truthfully, I knew about it, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn’t restrict booze through security, so I just never stopped to wonder why. “But you’re on a flight to Las Vegas,” he told me. “And we have to tell people not to drink their own booze or they’re chugging 20 mini-bottles that they snuck in through their 20 friends.”

Okay. Then that makes sense.

You can get away with drinking your own stuff when flying from Baltimore to Boise, but Miami or Vegas—two party towns—is a surefire trap, and it’s best to keep your flask in your breast pocket. Or maybe it’s a little like keeping your phone in airplane mode while the attendant is checking your seatbelt. But the minute they pass, you’re pressing the little green button and surfing the phone cyber webs for as long as you possibly can—before you’re trapped in a flying tube and sitting next to a total stranger.

This all gets me to thinking: I hate flying. And maybe that’s why I like carrying on my own stuff. The airline whiskey stinks.

They have basic, run-of-the-mill brands, and the flight attendants know less about whiskey than why that giant bump of turbulence happened (Truthfully, they have a hard job). This is an actual exchange I once had with an attendant:

“Do you have any bourbon?”

“We have Glenfiddich.”

“That’s Scotch.”

“We have Glenlivet.”

“That’s Scotch.”

“We have Crown Royal.”

“That’s Canadian whiskey.”

“We have Smirnoff.”

“Yuck. That’s vodka.”

“We have Jack Daniel’s Honey.”

“That’s…uh, never mind. I’ll take it.”

And with that order, I violated my longstanding rule to never drink flavored whiskey. I was desperate, not packing my own flask, and oddly, at the moment, very much anti-Scotch and Crown. I gave this Jack Daniel’s a whirl. The minute it hit my tongue, I felt the death of a thousand bees upon it. It was so gross and tasted nothing like honey. The whiskey was libelous to bees everywhere.

After we landed, I rushed to the nearest bar, ordering two healthy pours of Wild Turkey 101, feeling its beastly depth battle the chemical-feeling aftertaste. All was right, but I had always used this incident in my anecdotes against flavored whiskey. But I’ve had it all wrong. It wasn’t flavored whiskey’s fault. I am not, and never will be, that genre’s target audience.

I ordered it because I wanted to sip something American. My palate was brutalized for this patriotic endeavor, and it was the airline’s fault. They let me down by not stocking bourbon and not training their attendants to properly discuss the good stuff. All these years, I blamed flavored whiskey for this near-death experience. But the Las Vegas flight showed me the error of my ways: Airlines, and their overpriced (poorly curated) mini-bottles, are making flying harder for folks like me.

What if we could (legally) bring our own flask of Michter’s 10-year-old or W.L. Weller?

Oh, imagine, the ease of the flight: You could sip, savor, and tolerate the toddler kicking the back of your seat.

And with that order, I violated my longstanding rule to never drink flavored whiskey. I was desperate, not packing my own flask, and oddly, at the moment, very much anti-Scotch and Crown. I gave this Jack Daniel’s a whirl.

Fred Minnick
Official Contributor
Fred Minnick spends a lot of time with rockstars. Minnick headlines the annual Bourbon & Beyond Festival that features some of the biggest names in the music world. When he’s not hanging with rockers, he’s a student of bourbon. His award-winning books include Whiskey Women, Bourbon Curious, Bourbon, Rum Curious, and Mead. He’s also been a featured writer for Whisky Advocate, Whisky Magazine, and Covey Rise.