Southwest Airlines will resume serving alcoholic drinks this month

Southwest flight attendant union argues the move is 'unsafe and irresponsible'

Southwest Airlines is resuming alcohol sales onboard flights as soon as Feb. 16. 

The Texas-based carrier announced Thursday that it's bringing back its "full menu of on-board beverage options" after suspending alcohol sales in March 2020. Customers will be able to purchase beer, wine and hard liquor on flights of at least 176 miles, according to the airline.

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The recent news outraged the union representing Southwest flight attendants, TWU Local 556, which said the decision to resume alcohol sales is both "unsafe and irresponsible." 

However, Southwest, which is also adding tonic water, apple juice, Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, hot tea, and hot cocoa to its menu, said in a statement Thursday that customers have "expressed a desire for more beverage options."

The airline had already notified investors during an earnings call earlier this month that it was looking to bring back the service either "late in the first quarter, maybe early in the second quarter."

During the call, then-CEO Gary Kelly said the company had intended to bring back service in the middle of February but delayed plans due to the uptick in coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant.

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On Friday, TWU Local 556 told FOX Business in a statement that it "adamantly and unequivocally informed management that resuming sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer non-compliance and misconduct issues." 

The union also argued that alcohol sales on "ultra-short-haul flights puts flight attendants’ safety and security at a level of risk that is unacceptable because of the possibility of injuries when flight attendants are serving drinks rather than being secure in jumpseats upon descent." 

Holiday passengers departing Chicago's Midway International Airport check-in and retrieve bag tags as a Southwest Airlines flight arrives Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Newsroom)

The carrier had already delayed plans to reinstate the service last spring due to the increase in incidents of unruly passengers.

Federal Aviation Administration said the biggest single proposed fine, topping $40,000, involves a passenger who brought alcohol on the plane and drank it, smoked marijuana in the lavatory, and sexually assaulted a flight attendant on a Southwest Airlines jet in April.

In August, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson even issued a warning letter to airports saying there was a correlation between the uptick in unruly passengers and alcohol. 

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"The FAA adopted a Zero-Tolerance policy toward this behavior on airplanes earlier this year, and we are taking the strongest possible action within our legal authority. But we need your help," Dickson wrote in the letter. 

Dickson said that the agency's "investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior" and drew concern over alcohol to-go cups being served at airports. 

Passengers wait to check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at the Portland Jetport, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Portland, Maine.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

"Even though FAA regulations specifically prohibit the consumption of alcohol aboard an aircraft that is not served by the airline, we have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol ‘to go,’" Dickson added. 

According to Dickson, passengers either carry the drink on board, which is against federal law, or "they become inebriated during the boarding process." 

In 2021, the airlines reported nearly 6,000 cases of unruly passengers to the FAA. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.