We’ve all been there. You board your flight, begin ascending through the heavens, and suddenly, you find yourself subjected to the soundtrack of an infant screaming two aisles over and the same John Cusack rom-com you’ve seen on every flight since 2008. Then behold, salvation: the magnificent sight of the refreshments cart heading your way. You consider a Gin and Tonic but remember the price gouging that kicks in at about 35,000 feet.

What better way to outsmart those greedy airline bigwigs than sneaking a few nips (mini liquor bottles) on board to add to your favorite drink cart mixer? You get to start the vacation early and alleviate some flight anxiety in one fell swoop. While that all sounds ideal, it’s actually illegal. Unfortunately, this dream airline hack has already been realized and stomped out by lawmakers.

According to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, “No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage.”

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And it gets worse. When in-flight alcohol services came to a screeching halt in March 2020, airlines immediately saw an uptick in illicit nip sipping. Now that most airlines have resumed alcoholic beverage sales, flight attendants are expected to come down heavily on those sneaking sips.

You Can Bring Shooters and Nips On A Plane, Just Don’t Drink Them

As much of a tease as it may be, passengers are permitted to bring nips and shooters under the legal 3.2- ounce limit on board — they just can’t be opened until after deplaning. Ridiculous? Maybe, but unless you want to risk facing a hefty fine, it’s best to keep your booze stowed away.

There might be some lawyer types out there who are looking for loopholes in the wording of this rule: “Well, what if the server opens my mini bottles for me? Doesn’t that still count as being served a beverage?” Sorry, but almost every airline has its own policies that reinforce the rule — no ifs, ands, or buts.

When it comes to carry-on luggage, one’s options for bringing liquids on board are pretty restricted due to TSA regulations. Therefore, if you must bring alcohol with you and don’t plan to check baggage, nips are really the only option.

Duty Free shops often sell shooters and nips of alcohol. Despite this you cannot open them on your flight in the United States.
Duty Free shops often sell shooters and nips of alcohol. Despite this you cannot open them on your flight in the United States. Credit: Klemenso/stock.adobe.com

So, what is one to do if trying to catch a quick buzz before or during a flight? There’s always the airport bar. It won’t be cheap, either, but you’ll certainly have more drink options on land than you will mid-air.

If you’re set on taking to the skies with a cocktail in hand, you can always pony up and buy those expensive in-flight drinks. While the markups are indisputably rough, this is the only way to (legally) enjoy alcohol on a flight.

Just pray that you picked one of the more generous airlines that still offers complimentary pretzels in 2023.