Food

How to Make a Great Drink on a Plane

Pan-Am-cocktail-service

We’re excited to announce that our friend Erin Geiger Smith will be writing a new series on wine and cocktails for Cup of Jo. Here, she finds out the answer to a common travel quandary: What kind of cocktail is good at 40,000 feet?


About an hour into my recent flight from New York to Houston, with a hyper one-year-old (mine) fidgeting next to me, I really wanted a good cocktail to magically appear in front of me. But, I never know what to order on planes. The wines stocked by airlines usually don’t taste great, and flight attendants are, thankfully, trained more in safety than cocktail making.

So I asked someone who’s built an entire business around making good on-the-go cocktails. Marshall Altier is a founder of Road Soda, a company with tricked out Airstream trailers that’s served delicious drinks everywhere from fashion shows to Coachella.

Keeping it Simple

Marshall’s mantra is “keep it simple and use the best available ingredients.” Anything that’s a one-to-one concoction – just one spirit and one other liquid – will come out great on a plane, he promises.

His top basic in-flight choice is a Gin and Tonic. He recommends splurging on the best gin they have, and if the airline offers premium tonic waters, give one a try.

Because the ice will dilute your drink, Marshall says to go ahead and use the whole bottle of gin, likely about 2 ounces, and then top up with your tonic. Make sure to ask the attendant if they have limes. If so, squeeze some in, stir and enjoy!

If gin isn’t your thing, you can make a twist on a Moscow Mule by mixing vodka with ginger ale. (Ginger beer is even better, if they have it.) Or try a Presbyterian, which is bourbon or whiskey and ginger ale.

Taking It Up a Notch

If you’re up for it, you can go beyond the two-ingredient drink.

For something a little less boozy that’s great for summer, a Shandygaff is a delicious option. Choose a lager or wheat beer, and mix it with some ginger ale and a little lemonade or pineapple juice. Start with less than half the airplane cup of your beer and add the other liquid until you achieve your preferred taste.

If you want a wine cocktail and are willing to nerd out, Marshall suggests mixing orange curaçao or triple sec (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, etc.) and red or white wine. Press wedges of lime, lemon and/or orange wedges with a spoon to extract the juices, add a splash of soda and you have yourself an airplane version of a Fruit Cup cocktail.

One airplane drink that’s difficult to upgrade in any creative way, Marshall says, is the Bloody Mary. Either you’re happy with mixing vodka and plain tomato juice, he says, or you need to do some airport scavenger hunting for ingredients you can bring aboard, like wasabi, horseradish or hot sauce. (If you’re really going for it, he suggests seeing what you can get from the food court’s Panda Express restaurant! After all, there’s a scientific reason you crave tomato-y drinks in the air.)

Totally Geeking Out

If you’re a planner and willing to really geek out, you can B.Y.O. cocktail ingredients with you through security.

To stock up on the necessities for an Old Fashioned, carry a bottle of bitters with your other liquid carry-on items, as Marshall admits to doing. Marshall likes the TSA-friendly one-ounce bottles from Bitter Cube. Then, grab a packet of simple syrup, agave nectar or honey from the terminal’s Starbucks. You can then mix the drink on your flight by adding about a teaspoon of your syrup or honey and six drops of the bitters to whiskey. Marshall says to keep the whiskey below the ice line because the water that results from the ice melting is an important part of the drink.

Also, take heed: Drunk on a plane is cute only as a song title, so it’s a good idea to down one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.

madmen7_1home

Do you have a go-to drink for flying? We’d love to know… Happ(ier) flying!

P.S. How NOT to be scared of flying, and 10 ways to entertain a toddler on a plane.

Erin Geiger Smith writes about drinks and other topics for the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and elsewhere.

  1. Morgan says...

    Whiskey tea with honey! It makes your head and belly feel warm and fuzzy. ;) Plus, it’s half water so you aren’t dehydrated as much. Honestly, try it next time, I fly heaps, it’s delicious! xx

  2. Kate says...

    My go-to is vodka and cranberry!

  3. Latest craze: Pack a 1-ounce bottle of grapefruit vodka in your liquids bag (love Austin’s Deep Eddy version with real grapefruit!) and mix it with OJ. The citrus combo is ridiculously good and makes a flight with your girlfriends you haven’t seen in years that much more special.

    Kensley from Hot Mess Mamas

  4. I enjoyed the post but can’t say that this has ever been a “common travel quandary” for me!! I avoid drinking on planes, I feel dehydrated enough when I fly as it is :)

  5. Briana says...

    I always do the one glass of water to one drink ratio on a plane! It works very well for me. My order is always “Can I get a glass of water, no ice, and a …” And I never order wine (unless there is a Premium selection) because it is usually pretty bad.

    I fly all the time. At least 4 times a month. When I fly I used to always get sick. On a 45 minute commuter trip or a 11 hour trans atlantic. Having a cocktail helps relax me and not think about the length of the flight ahead.

    The pace of the drink services also times out nicely to metabolize the alcohol I don’t ever feel buzzed. On a flight less than 2 hours, they only come around once. On a 4 hour flight they stop by twice. It is a nice drink to hour ratio!

  6. 123 says...

    Awesome post !! I am petrified of flying so I do rely on drinking to calm me down. and I always have one or 2 G&T depending on how long my flight is. And I down them in record time. It always does the trick and never fails to start a little reassuring session between the person next to me and I as they sense my anxiety.

  7. Glenda says...

    On long flights to Hawaii I’ll have a lava flow :) on a long flight to PR I had a margarita :) and on a longer flight to Antigua I had a Rum Punch always followed by tons of water :) I won’t be traveling this summer, but in Nov going to Hawaii for 10 days. Can’t wait! :) Great post Joanna!

  8. I don’t normally drink when i’m flying because i don’t want to further dehydrate my already dehydrated body. However now I’m keen on just ordering gin and tonic in my next flight! I wouldn’t recommend tomato juice because I had a very unpleasant experience with the thick, not easily digestible liquid which required the use of the sick bag. argh.

  9. Lisa says...

    I love this, haha. Im flying out tomorrow, but even if I travel A LOT both privately and for work, I think I can count the times I have had a drink (on a flight) on my fingers.. Travelled a lot with my family as a child and my parents would never drink while flying, so I never associated the two. Then I became a young, poor adult who didn’t drink on flights as I couldn’t afford it haha. I also get dehydrated and get swollen feet when doing lounge flights so alcohol feels like it doesn’t belong. Otherwise my recommendation would always be whiskey/ginger ale, perhaps with a little lime. Surprising one; jägermeister/red bull! Or whiskey/fanta (or other orange soda)! The combinations are awesome, even though you could discuss how healthy energy drink and alcohol is as a mix.. Or on a flight..

  10. Juliette says...

    I always go for a good G&T! So crisp and refreshing. But then again I live in London and that is also what I drink at the pub…

  11. Bookmarking this as we are entering the cocktail season. Can’t wait to get some useful tips and inspiration. Best, Bianca x

  12. LA_Love says...

    I’m flying to Portland tomorrow for my boyfriend’s birthday and to Paris and Barcelona at the end of summer for my birthday and these drink ideas have arrived at the perfect time! I usually have a bloody mary on the plane (especially on Alaskan Airlines because they have the best bloody mary mix – “Wicked”! I’ve even found it online and ordered it for home) but I might need to try some of these recipes! Thanks so much for always having such an interesting variety of material on your blog!

    XOXO, Diana

  13. Laura C says...

    Welcome Erin! Thanks for your series!
    Anyway, since my flights use to be short (about 2 hours), I don’t drink anything but water. Plus, I think I wouldn’t enjoy a drink in a plane… I don’t know, maybe I prefer to sip a Gin&Lemon on land!
    xxx

  14. I have never had a drink on a flight–and you all make me want to get on a plane just so I can drink! Or it may be a sign that I desperately need a vacation or both! We still have yet to get on a plane since having Luna and she’s 2! I get anxiety just packing her up myself for our solo outings…I couldn’t imagine me at the airport. I would probably need a drink before heading to the airport. My doctor recently suggested that I should go back to drinking wine to relax (I gave it up because I’m dieting, but sometimes I need to chillax so bad!). Bring on the drinks!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “you all make me want to get on a plane just so I can drink!” = made me lol.

  15. Eva says...

    I was just in a Southwest flight and the flight attendant announced that while we could bring the little bottles of liquor on board… We couldn’t drink them! WTH!?! My drink of choice was coffee and Bailey’s! (Red eye!)

  16. This is a sign that it’s time for me to grow up! I’ve been drinking ginger ale for as long as I can remember – perhaps due to sentimentality – because plane rides were the only time my parents let me have it.

    • reva says...

      The first time I ever flew on a plane was with my Grammy. And, she told me she would always order a Ginger Ale, to calm her stomach. Ever since then, I always get Ginger Ale on the plane; as tradition, and in remembrance of my Grandmother.

  17. alston says...

    What a great post! Can’t wait to see more! Love the new look for the blog too. Glad I only have 6 more weeks of being pregnant… fun cocktails and summertime here I come!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      congratulations on your baby news! you must be so excited to meet the little one. and not having wine for 9 months was so hard for me, too; i hear you, mama!

  18. B. Krock says...

    I’m enormously impressed by the courage of these airborne alcohol barristas. My biggest fear on a plane is trying to open the little, plastic cream containers without putting my seatmate’s eye out.

  19. Mary says...

    I don’t, personally, have any good go-to cocktails for airplane travel but I’ve gotten some great ideas, here! Nice post!

  20. Love this! Gin and tonic has been my go-to lately, but I also love a little Irish coffee. Yum.

  21. I’m so excited to see more of Erin’s posts! This is a great addition. I’m a gin & tonic gal, but honestly anything will do when you’re as terrified of flying as I am!

    http://www.smallestthing.com

  22. Samantha says...

    I am so excited to learn there is a scientific reason for my strange tomato juice craving when I fly. I thought I was the only one!

  23. Susan says...

    I recently read that the conditions your body is in during flying can actually alter your taste buds and also that wine becomes more acidic at high altitudes, hence the reason a wine that tastes great at ground level can taste thin and acidic in flight. That said, I find flying pretty dehydrating in general so I rarely drink on planes, but love having a cocktail or refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio on arrival ;)

    • Ali says...

      I recently read something about altitude affecting taste buds too (I think my exposure was an article on why airplane food is universally disappointing). I was about to comment on how altitude affects the taste of wine, but it looks like you already got that covered.

  24. Meredith says...

    I’m partial to the Old Spanish.

  25. Lillie says...

    I really wish you had a like button on your blog. I love this, and sometimes I just want you to know it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      lillie, that is the sweetest thing to say! thank you:)

    • Laura says...

      Me too! I always want to like all the posts on Joanna’s page!
      Those fancy new web people of yours should make a “like button,” or even better, one of Gemma’s adult stickers! “Way to go, Jo!”

  26. Hi Joanna and welcome Erin!

    I love this airstream idea–wish I had thought of it! Ha ha! When I travel by plane, I will have a Grey Goose vodka and soda! Only if I feel a bit anxious and need to relax! H20 is my drink of choice for hydration!!!!

    (=’.’=)
    -Lauren
    adorn la femme

  27. I drank (five) Micheladas on my last flight to Vegas. 3/4 beer (pale ale, tecate, or corona) a splash of spicy tomato juice (or whatever they use to make bloody Mary’s), and lime!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds delicious! and a trip to vegas sounds like the right time to have five drinks on a flight.

  28. while y’all are right, the wine on planes isn’t great, i have become pretty addicted to my little bottle mid-flight. perhaps it’s romantic/nostalgic as my husband and i started splitting the tapas snack box and sipping red wine before we had kids or just strategic — you can hold a wiggling baby while sipping straight from that wine bottle and not worry about spilling!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg i’m laughing out loud reading your comment — lexi and i were just talking about this today. sometimes you need to just swig from the bottle and put the cap back on!

  29. jeannie says...

    brandy and ginger is always a great flight drink. But I also love a gin and tonic!

  30. Anceeta says...

    I love the photo, by the way. Miss the times where people actually dressed up for travel. (I am speaking like an old granny. I am 21. haha)

    Anceeta.com

  31. Anceeta says...

    I just prefer not to drink on a plane. Their wines, like you said, are horrible and have given me headaches (worst when you are in the air) many times. Also, I cannot handle stronger alcohol. So I either stick to beer or ginger ale. Yum!

    Anceeta.com

  32. Lauren E. says...

    My BF and I have started a ritual of showing up to the airport early to have a drink at an airport bar before we get on the plane. It makes the wait much more tolerable and it’s a nice little tradition to loosen us up before the flight. Plus a much better selection than on board :)

    • I like to arrive early to, less stress! Chilling with a salad and a glass of wine is preferred to last minute check-ins!

  33. Adriana says...

    I was in line at CVS once, joking about buying small bottles of alcohol for a flight once and in line behind me was a flight attendant who warned me that, while you can take the mini liquor bottles on the flight with you, you’re not allowed to open them on the flight! Apparently the regulation is that “No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage.” Bitters may be fine in that they have a low enough alcohol content and don’t look like straight alcohol, but I always like to err on the side of caution with TSA.

    • Kara says...

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. My mom and I got in trouble for this once. We thought we were so clever bringing our tiny alcohol bottles on, but were told we could not drink them. :(

    • Summer says...

      From what I know, it’s airline policy, not TSA (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/alcoholic-beverages). In fact, I had a TSA agent high five me (not even kidding) when he saw my little vodkas go through the scanner at 9am.

      I’ve always taken little bottles on with me. A flight attendant told me the first time I did it (because I was being honest) that I just need to have them serve it to me or not let them see it, and she suggest the latter. :P Haha

  34. Talia says...

    A wonderful post idea! Welcome, Erin!

  35. Samantha says...

    Love this! perfect timing for my flight from NYC to Tokyo. I also like to drink a Kalimotxo ( redwine and coca cola) a delicious Dpanish drink.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh interesting! now i’m curious to try it.

    • Kelsie says...

      My favorite drink in the world! So easy, anytime, anywhere (and a great signature party drink)… the worse the wine, the better the kalimotxo!

  36. I generally just drink wine–mostly because I didn’t realize there were so many other options. Thanks for this!

    Hooray to more boozy posts on Cup of Jo!

  37. Nina says...

    vodka and seltzer for low carb- with a lime is fine. But I haven’t flown in a long time

  38. File this away for camp boring, but I always bring my favorite tea and ask for hot water. Et voila! I feel warm and refreshed.

    • I do this too! I’m always cold on planes so having a warm drink is so nice. It also has the bonus of smelling nice and covering up bad plane smell. :)

    • Talia says...

      Brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing!

    • Anceeta says...

      Oh god. I am totally going to try this! Awesome!

      In that mad rush before leaving to the airport, I always forget the simple things like this one. Thanks!

      Anceeta.com

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      camp boring made me lol. i think this is a great tip. also hot water and lemon always feels good and refreshing.

    • mandy says...

      I do this all the time, as well — familiar tea makes the plane feel a little bit like home! Plus, I’m always freezing during long flights.

  39. Lauren says...

    I have a 7pm flight from Boston to Paris on Friday – the timing of this amazing article couldn’t have been more perfect! :)

  40. I’m flying to Florida in a few weeks and can’t wait to add this idea to my “plane picnic!”

    Great idea for the new series, by the way. Looking forward to it!

  41. Bethanne says...

    I always get a gin and tonic during evening or night flights! the first time I got one on a flight was when my husband and I were on our way to our honeymoon destination. So they will always have that memory linked to them, and probably makes them taste even better:)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      on our honeymoon, we were upgraded to business class. we were like kids in a candy store. the flight attendant came around with kir royal cocktails as soon as we boarded. now i always associate them with that giddy flight! :)

  42. G&T is brilliant. I’ve always been an OJ + white wine drinker. Just mimosa-ish enough!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      brilliant!

  43. Old Fashions are delightful but I don’t know if I’m organized enough to make one on a plane. Here’s my question: why do so many people order Bloody Mary Mix to drink on planes? I’ve never seen anyone drink it (just the mix!) anywhere else, but traveled a ton for work and there was inevitably someone sucking it down near me on nearly every flight! The 40,000 foot beverage mystery. Unless they all had their own little bottles and I never noticed….

  44. Melanie says...

    A wine and cocktail series…?! BRILLIANT!! Welcome Erin! I look forward to learning any tricks and advice you have for us readers. Cheers.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good! we hope you like it!

    • Erin Geiger Smith says...

      Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome! I’m so glad you’re getting some flight inspiration.

  45. Lena says...

    Welcome Erin!