Fellow blogger Points, Miles & Martinis recently shared a music video “Drunk On A Planeby Dierks Bentley which gave me a good laugh.

Did you notice the full-sized bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial? That reminded me of a friend’s question of how he could carry on a bottle wine or Champagne for his trip to Aspen with his girlfriend (now fiancé, as I later learned that the engagement in Aspen was the need for the celebratory libations!).

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Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to give you a very comprehensive answer…so here it goes!

can you bring alcohol on a plane

Federal regulations and airline rules steer what alcoholic beverages you may bring on board.

I text my buddy back the simple answer:

Same 3-1-1 rules apply.

So, just like your shampoo and body wash, you may carry-on travel-size alcohol liquid containers (3.4oz/100ml bottle or less, by volume; 3.4-1-1 just didn’t have the same ring to it) that fit comfortably in one, quart-sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag per passenger through security checkpoints in U.S. airports (with certain exceptions like medications, baby formula, breast milk, etc.).

Mini liquor bottles are typically 1.7 ounces. Liquids, including alcohol, purchased after clearing the security checkpoint are permitted aboard aircraft. Any amount of liquid including alcohol greater than 3.4oz must be packed in your checked baggage (exceptions below).

While bringing mini alcohol bottles on a plane might be possible, there are several more elements to this issue, starting with the actual drinking of the alcohol (duh).

Ok, so I CAN carry-on my mini-alcohol bottles and save a few bucks by self-serving my own spiked drink, right?

Wrong. While it may be possible, it is not allowed. Title 14  of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 121.575 (Operating Requirements) and Part 135.121 (Flight Operations) state (my emphasis):

§ 121.575 Alcoholic beverages.
(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.
(b) No certificate holder may serve any alcoholic beverage to any person aboard any of its aircraft who— (1) Appears to be intoxicated;…
(c) No certificate holder may allow any person to board any of its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated….

§ 135.121 Alcoholic beverages.
(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage.
(b) No certificate holder may serve any alcoholic beverage to any person aboard its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated.
(c) No certificate holder may allow any person to board any of its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated.

Just like bringing your own alcohol into a bar, the licensed establishment needs to keep tabs on service to customers. Airlines should, as recommended by the FAA, have guidelines in place for dealing with such situations and training on such.

Then will the flight attendant SERVE ME my own carry-on booze!?

Maybe. Sure, some flight attendants might turn a blind eye to you topping off your free soda yourself, while others may hold firm to the letter of the law. Nevertheless, you should familiarize yourself with your carrier’s policy before the flight.  For example, here is what JetBlue has to say (my emphasis):

You may bring wine, champagne or beer on a flight for consumption during the flight if it is in an unopened container. If you’d like to drink the alcohol you carry on, you may give it to one of our Inflight crewmembers, and they will be happy to serve it to you. — JetBlue

Whereas, United makes it pretty clear: “Alcohol transported on an airplane cannot be consumed on board.”

Are there certain forms of alcohol that I cannot pack in my carry-on OR checked baggage?

Yes. We must remember that alcohol can be flammable depending on its alcohol content (proof). Alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (>140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum, cannot be packed in any baggage (carry-on or checked). If your alcohol is between 48 and 140 proof, you’re limited to check 5 liters under federal regulations (49 CFR 175 Carriage by Aircraft of Hazardous Materials) (my emphasis):

§ 175.10 Exceptions for passengers, crewmembers, and air operators.
(a)(4)(ii) Alcoholic beverages containing: More than 24% and not more than 70% alcohol by volume when in unopened retail packagings not exceeding 5 liters (1.3 gallons) carried in carry-on or checked baggage, with a total net quantity per person of 5 liters (1.3) gallons for such beverages.

Note: The TSA Blog seems to overlook the Federal Regulation of requiring “unopened retail packagings” as stated here: “packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.” Thus, you may be risking confiscation if using your own sealed container or the like, even though the official TSA Blog gives it a seal (pun intended) of approval.

Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations. Remember, each airline may establish more restrictive regulations on how alcohol may be transported by its customer.

With all that being said, could I really get in trouble for spiking my own drink?

Yes. There are several possibilities of penalties ranging from a scolding by the flight crew to criminal charges (in the most extreme cases, such as transportation of a hazardous material or a violation of 49 U.S.C. 46504, “Interference with flight crew members and attendants”). Furthermore, you risk blacklisting yourself for future flight privileges by violating an airline’s rules and/or your “Contract of Carriage”. Is possibly being met by law enforcement officers at the gate while disembarking worth saving $7 on a drink?

can you bring alcohol on a plane

Secure Tamper Evident Bag (STEB)

Last question, what about those full-size liquor bottle I can buy at duty-free stores in international airports?

You’re in luck! As of January 31, 2014, duty-free alcohol purchased at international airports can now be transported in carry-on baggage through to your final U.S. destination, even if you exit Customs and reenter a TSA checkpoint before your connecting flight, as long as the bottle was purchased at a non-U.S. duty-free store and remains inside a clear, sealed “Secure Tamper Evident Bag” (STEB) (see inset).

This does NOT mean you may board the plane, open the bag, and begin your best impression of LMFAO’s “Shots” featuring Lil Jon!

Still confused?  See p.3 of this recent (Dec. 6, 2013) FAA guide for a good summary.
Got some stories of your own, points to add or update to this post, or disagree with the above? Comment below!

Looking for a tale of alcohol and flying seemingly right out of modern reality TV?  Here is an interesting FAA appeal decision regarding a 1996 TWA flight from Paris to Boston, an intoxicated Saudi Arabian princess, and more.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.