The Decline and Fall of In-Flight Liquor

Another addition to our random musings on the state of alcohol…

Many moons ago United Airlines served Glenlivet 12 on international flights.  Perhaps nothing remarkable, nothing you would ring your friends about in the wee hours of the night, but it was free and had a bit o’ oak in the tail.  Which is more than you can say for most in-flight beverages.  And as long as you didn’t appear deranged or overly boisterous, you could score pretty much all you could drink. And on an eleven-hour flight that can add up.  Of course you usually needed to play off a few different attendants and a modicum of yes-please-thank you -could-I-trouble-you went a long way.  And life wasn’t so bad.

But one day in some unholy suite somewhere an executive waived a cruel wand and Glenlivet 12 was stricken from the roster of in-flight imbibables.  And so the era of Dewar’s was born – not that Dewar’s is necessarily a bad thing, but for my tastes it was a step down.  Slightly more utilitarian, I thought at the time, but with a hint of vanilla that worked to assuage any coach-class discontent on those trans-Pacific flights.  But it was only slightly into the era of Dewar’s that an epiphany greatly enhanced my overall flight experience: why not bring a flask?  A flask would permit me the luxury of savoring instead of settling, it would imbue the longer flights with an undercurrent of pleasure.  So I did.  And things were really good for a while.  There were logistical issues that one had to plan for, naturally.  A respectable, well-sealed, stainless steel flask took up very little room in the carry-on and raised few eyebrows, particularly if you had it standing upright in your bag as it rolled through the x-ray machine.  I wasn’t sure about the whole legality of bringing spirits onto a plane but no-one seemed to care much and that was fine by me.

Once ensconced in my no-legroom-seat (myslef nowhere near legless) I could look forward to the in-flight festivities.  If you paced yourself and let some of the more-proletariat (and free) liquor do the bulk of the leg-work, you could stretch a flask of something delightful for most of the flight, adding a general patina of uncompromising satisfaction to the first leg of the trip, and easing you into a recuperative, if slightly restive, sleep for a goodly portion of the last leg.  It was during this brief, halcyon of air-flight that, in a rare moment of rashness an even-more-rare bit of spending cash was exchanged for one of those duty-free small-fry bottles of Johnny Walker Blue, which wasn’t bad.  There was something curiously fun about having the bottle at my hotel and refilling my flask from in every day.

But then the world changed.  Or if not the world, the rules governing the contents of carry-on bags and in particular, liquids.  I recall the end of the era quite clearly.  In the face of unyielding airport security, having no choice but to take the guard’s edict and marshal my way to the bathroom to dump the flask out, I did so.  Right into my mouth.  So while I boarded the dark age of in-flight liquor consumption, I did so at 10:00 AM with a gullet full of a non-standard, cask strength Caol Ila bound for Tokyo.  Since then I, like many, have made do with the Spartan selection of whatever the attendants are proffering and adapt, finding laughter in the moments of compromise, self-deprecating humor in the substandard fare upon which we now subsist for ten-or-so hours at a stretch, a moment of sustenance in the Land of Nod.  I am still in search of a solution to this problem.  Please advise if you have one and I will be eternally grateful. – Nate.

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