Southwest Airlines said Friday it plans to start serving alcohol on flights later this month, nearly two years after suspending service amid coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
The move, opposed by the union representing the airline’s flight attendants, will make American Airlines the last of the Big Four airlines that still does not allow the sale of alcohol for most passengers.
Saying customers have expressed a desire for more drink options, Southwest announced that it would reinstate the sale of on board alcoholic beverages from February 16 on flights of 176 miles or more. The airline also said it would expand its non-alcoholic options.
Officials from the union which represents the airline’s flight attendants said they were “outraged” by the “dangerous and irresponsible” decision.
“We have emphatically and unequivocally advised management that resuming alcohol sales while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase non-compliance and customer misconduct issues,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, in a statement.
A federal mandate requires passengers to wear masks at all times at the airport and during flights, except when eating, drinking or taking medication for brief periods. Enforcement of the warrant led to abusive behavior by passengers, including assaults on flight attendants.
The chief executive of Delta Air Lines said in a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland that the government should place passengers convicted of disrupting flights on a no-fly list , calling it an “indispensable step.” to deal with an outbreak of violence on board planes.
A spokeswoman for American Airlines said Friday that the company has not yet set a date for the return of alcohol in the main cabins of planes. Alcohol is available in first class. She said the airline will work closely with its union and medical experts to determine when alcohol sales will return to main cabins.
Delta Air Lines resumed alcohol sales in its main cabins in April, and United Airlines did it in november.
In May, Southwest Airlines announced it had suspended plans to resume alcohol service on flights, citing the “recent increase in in-flight incidents involving disruptive passengers across the industry.”
“We realize this decision will be disappointing for some customers, but we believe it is the right decision now in the interests of the safety and comfort of all on board,” the statement read at the time.
It was unclear what had changed since then. A spokesperson for the airline declined to comment beyond the company’s official statement.