Embarking on an international or domestic flight brings about various questions, from packing essentials to navigating through airport security.
One question that often arises is, “What age do you have to be to drink alcohol on a plane?”
The rules surrounding the legal drinking age at 30,000 feet can be as diverse as the destinations themselves. In this blog post, I’ll unravel the complexities of alcohol consumption in the skies, exploring both domestic and international flights.
Note: while I am a licensed attorney the following is not legal advice.
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What age do you have to be to drink alcohol on a plane?
If you’re flying within the US, you usually have to be 21 to drink on the plane. But when you’re flying internationally, the drinking age on the plane is usually based on the rules of the airline’s home country and it’s often 18.
Sometimes on US flights there are exceptions for people under 21 if they’re with their parents, because in some states, those under 18 might be allowed to drink if their parents say it’s okay. However, these rules can be different, so it’s a good idea to check with the airline to make sure about any specific rules for drinking with parents during the flight.
Alcohol on domestic flights: what you need to know
As you will see below, the standard minimum drinking age for all US domestic flights is 21.
If you’re planning on bringing alcohol on your flight with a US airline you should know that bringing alcohol is a little bit complicated.
First, you’re not allowed to serve yourself alcohol on a plane. You would have to get a flight attendant to agree to serve you alcohol which most airlines are not willing to do — at least not on paper.
There are also restrictions on the type of alcohol you can bring on.
Some alcohol is so strong that it is flammable and not allowed on a plane (in your carry-on or your checked bag). Other types of alcohol must remain in the original packaging.
To make sure that you are in compliance with the alcohol rules for flying and getting through TSA, be sure to read this thorough guide. It tells you a lot of things about bringing alcohol on a plane including things lots of other resources leave out.
The standard policy for drinking ages on international flights
The typical policy that you will run into for international flights is that the legal age for drinking found in the airline’s home country is the legal drinking age in effect while on the plane. This may apply regardless of where your flight is departing from, landing, or flying over.
For example, let’s say that you were flying from Houston to Cancun on Southwest Airlines. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 as of the time of this article.
So you might think that you would be able to partake in alcoholic beverages if you are 18 or older when on that flight. However, because Southwest is a US-based carrier, US law is applied and the drinking age remains at 21.
But let’s say that you were flying from Houston to Cancun on Aeromexico, an airline based in Mexico.
As mentioned, the legal drinking age is 18 in Mexico and Aeromexico would be willing to serve alcohol to someone who is at least 18. That’s the case even if the passenger is flying to or from the US and they are American. The nationality of the passenger really does not have anything to do with what laws apply.
This all makes sense when you think about how laws usually apply in an airplane.
Typically, when an airplane is on the ground, the law of the ground country applies but when it is up in the air, the state of registration for the aircraft can apply jurisdiction.
As you go around to different countries you’ll find that the drinking age varies from about 18 to 21. Some go a little higher and some go a little lower.
But it’s a little bit more complicated than just knowing the drinking age of a country.
Why things get a little bit complicated on international flights
First, in case you were not aware alcohol consumption is not allowed in certain countries.
When countries prohibit alcohol consumption, passengers may be restricted from consuming alcohol on flights operated by airlines based in those countries.
For example, all Saudi carriers prohibit alcohol as do other carriers like EgyptAir, Kuwait Airways, Pakistan International Airlines, and Royal Brunei Airlines.
In the case of a country like Egypt, alcohol is allowed on the ground but not in the air with EgyptAir, so you can’t always match a country’s policy with that of an airline’s policy. This is kind of similar to how alcohol is outlawed in the Maldives but not in the resort areas, only it’s backwards.
In some instances it’s a little bit more complicated.
You could run into a situation where you are permitted to carry alcohol but not allowed to drink it. This appears to be the case with EgyptAir. For example, you could probably bring a duty free alcohol bottle that is sealed without issue but you could not drink it on the plane.
Other times, there may be limitations on the percentage of alcohol you can consume based on your age. Finland is a good example of this where you have to be a certain age to import alcohol above 22%.
And finally, a country may not have a nationwide drinking age because the age varies based on the territory or province. For example, in Canada the legal drinking age is 19+ in every province and territory except Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta where it is 18+. Air Canada is based in Quebec which is probably why you can drink on Air Canada if you are 18 years or older.
That’s why it is a good practice to verify the drinking age with an airline if you are under 21 years old. In addition, you should be absolutely clear on whether or not you can transport alcohol if it’s not allowed to be consumed on a plane.
What about minors flying with parents?
In the US, in some states people under 21 years old are allowed to drink so long as they have permission from a parent.
The catch is that sometimes this only applies to drinking in private such as at your residence. (Typically, a plane would not be considered a private area although you could probably make a straight-faced argument that you have an expectation of privacy in certain suites.)
In some states someone under 21 can also drink in public as long as the parent is there and consents, and that is the type of law that could give some people hope on a plane.
Some airlines may acknowledge this type of parent-child relationship exception and allow someone under the minimum age to drink alcohol. But once again, this is something that you want to get clarification on.
Don’t just assume you know how it works because there are a lot of different ways that governments deal with this issue. Be polite and patient and you might have success.
US Airline legal drinking age limits
As you can tell from the data points below, all US airlines require you to be 21 years of age to drink.
|Legal Drinking Age Limit
|Confirmed with representative
|Link to policy
|Link to policy
|Link to policy
|Link to policy
|Link to policy
International airlines and their minimum drinking ages
Below are the stated drinking age limits for various international airlines. These were confirmed by research or by speaking with representatives.
However, once again I would always take an extra effort to confirm these since they could be subject to change.
- Aeromexico: 18
- ANA: 20
- British Airways: 18
- Emirates: 18 (some say 21)
- Lufthansa: 18
- Qantas: 18
- SAS: 21
- Singapore Airlines: 17
- Varig: 21
- Virgin Atlantic: 18
Tip: If you’re looking for a unique drinking experience in the sky, consider checking out the bars on Virgin Atlantic and Emirates flights.
It’s worth noting that some airlines may be more lenient in enforcing the minimum drinking age, meaning flight attendants may not consistently check passengers’ ages.
In other words, discreet behavior increases the likelihood of being served alcohol without issue. Generally, staying within acceptable bounds and being respectful should prevent any problems during your flight.
Nonetheless, it’s always wise to stay informed and adhere to airline policies.
For the most part, the minimum age for drinking on a plane will depend on the minimum age allowed in the country where the airline is based.
But as we have seen above, there is not always a direct connection between that age and there are some exceptions that could apply.
So the best thing that you can do is to contact the specific airline and inquire about the minimum age for alcohol. Make sure you are crystal clear on what the policy is and if you are in doubt, maybe just stick to sparkling water.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.