If you’re flying on an international flight from the US you might be tempted to think that the drinking age could be lower than the established US legal drinking age of 21.
Well, you could be right but you also could be wrong — it all depends on the airline you are flying with.
Below, I will give you some guidance on the minimum drinking age for various airlines when on both domestic and international flights.
Domestic flight age limit for alcohol
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.
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
First, in case you were not aware alcohol consumption is not allowed in certain countries.
When countries don’t allow alcohol consumption, you may not be able to consume alcohol on a plane.
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 when 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.
(Confirmed with representative.)
“All travelers (21+) can also enjoy free beer, wine and liquor.”
“You must be 21 years or older to drink alcoholic beverages”
“Regulations prohibit passengers from consuming their own alcoholic beverages while en route, and passengers must be at least 21 years of age to be served alcohol.”
“Alcohol may be served only to customers 21 and older.”
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
You might find that some airlines are more lax about enforcing the minimum drinking age. In other words, the flight attendants are not necessarily carding passengers to verify their age although if they are suspicious they might do so.
As a rule of thumb, the more discrete you are the less likely you are to be refused alcohol on a plane. Be cool and I doubt that you will run into trouble unless you step too far out of bounds.
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 creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.