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Flight attendant union criticizes Southwest Airlines’ plan to resume alcohol sales next week

Southwest Airlines jets sit at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.
Matt York
Associated Press
Southwest airlines jets are stored at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines plans to reintroduce in-flight alcohol sales next week for the first time in nearly two years despite concerns over the high number of incidents involving unruly passengers.

The union representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants is blasting the company’s plans to resume in-flight alcohol sales next week for the first time in nearly two years.

“Why now? The [FAA] mask mandate is scheduled to go through March 18 and that would be a better time to bring alcohol sales back again,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556.

The Dallas-based carrier announced last week it will restore on-board beverage options for most flights to include liquor, beer and wine starting Feb. 16. Southwest was one of the first U.S. airlines to pause alcohol salesand other in-flight concessions to mitigate coronavirus transmissions in March 2020.

“More assaults [on commercial aircraft] have occurred in the last year than in aviation’s entire history. It’s gone up about 3000%,” said Montgomery, adding alcohol consumption has been a contributing factor in many incidents. Allowing alcohol sales before the mask mandate expires, she said, will only increase non-compliance and misconduct.

“The scheduled date for it to end is just a few weeks away so certainly it would be something that they should consider. [Southwest] delayed the sale of alcohol before.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. airlines have reported 323 unruly passengers this year as of February 1. 205 of those incidents were related to face mask requirements.

A spokesperson for Southwest declined to comment, but referred to the company’s statement last week, announcing the change for flights traveling 176 miles or more:

“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 customer experience and customer relations.

Southwest’s change in services next week would leave Fort Worth-based American Airlines as the only major U.S air carrier that has not resumed serving alcoholic beverages on flights.

An FAA spokesperson said the agency is not involved in airlines’ decisions regarding in-flight concessions, but confirmed the requirement to wear masks is still on track to end next month.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.