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.


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.