Southwest Airlines said Friday that it planned to start serving alcohol on flights later this month, nearly two years after it suspended the service amid coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
The move, opposed by the union representing the airline’s flight attendants, will make American Airlines the last of the four major airlines still not allowing alcohol sales for most passengers.
Saying that customers have expressed a desire for more beverage options, Southwest announced that it would restore the sale of alcoholic drinks starting Feb. 16 on flights of 176 miles or longer. The airline also said that it would expand its nonalcoholic options.
Officials from the union that represents the airline’s flight attendants said they were “outraged” at the “unsafe and irresponsible” decision.
“We have adamantly and unequivocally informed management that resuming sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer noncompliance and misconduct issues,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, said in a statement.
A federal mandate requires that passengers wear masks at all times while at the airport and during flights, except while eating, drinking or taking medications for brief periods. Enforcement of the mandate has led to abusive passenger behavior, including assaults of flight attendants.
The chief executive of Delta Air Lines said in a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland that the government should put passengers convicted of disrupting flights on a no-fly list, calling it a “much-needed step” toward addressing a spike in violence aboard planes.
A spokeswoman for American Airlines said on Friday that the company had not yet set a date for the return of alcohol in the main cabins of planes. Alcohol is available in first class. She said the airline would work closely with its union and medical experts to determine when alcohol sales will return to the main cabins.
Delta Air Lines resumed alcohol sales in its main cabins in April, and United Airlines did so in November.
In May, Southwest Airlines announced that it had paused plans to resume serving alcohol on flights, citing the “recent uptick industrywide of incidents in-flight involving disruptive passengers.”
“We realize this decision will be disappointing for some customers, but we feel it to be the right decision now in the interest of safety and comfort of all onboard,” the statement at the time said.
It was unclear what had changed since then. A spokesman for the airline declined to comment beyond the company’s official statement.