Is Flying A Dry Airline Really That Bad?

Filed Under: Travel

I’m always looking to review as many new airlines as possible, and lately it sure seems like the number of dry airlines (those that don’t serve alcohol) I’ve flown has increased drastically — EgyptAir, Kuwait, Saudia, etc. What I find interesting is that just about every time I fly a dry airline, one of the first comments from others is “ugh, dry airline, no thanks.”

On one hand I share the sentiment, while on the other hand I find this illogical. Most people don’t drink every day (at least I don’t think so?), yet somehow being on an 8-12 hour flight without alcohol seems extremely unpleasant.

So this is partly a personal post sharing why my perspective on alcohol in general has changed, and then also reflecting on my experience with dry airlines.

I make a point of drinking less than I used to

Let me start by saying that I’m no angel. I’ve had many flights over the years where I got really really drunk. It’s easy enough to do when you have a fun crew and access to $150+ bottle per bottle champagne. In many ways that’s self destructive, though at the same time I think excess in moderation is fine.

But personally what has changed in my life is that I make a point of not drinking as much as possible. To be clear, it’s not that I have great cravings for alcohol, but rather in social situations when everyone else is drinking, it’s only natural to succumb to peer pressure and also order a glass of wine.

But I have a crazy schedule, and there’s a direct correlation between how much I drink at night and how I feel in the morning (and I’m a morning person, so peak energy to me in the morning is important). Even if I have just one or two glasses of wine with dinner because everyone else is, I notice in the morning I don’t feel awesome. Meanwhile if I just stick to sparkling water, I feel great.

While I still sometimes “indulge” on top airlines, at great restaurants, and/or for special occasions, otherwise I make a point of not drinking. Again, I’m not always great about this, but I try.

In general you’re also always going to feel much better not drinking when you fly, given the effects of alcohol at altitude. So when flying domestically I never drink, and I feel great about it.

A mint mojito mocktail on Saudia

Dry airline FOMO?

I just flew Saudia (which is a dry airline) from Jeddah to Los Angeles. The flight was phenomenal. I had caviar, lobster thermidor, and all kinds of other delicious food.

Many would say “well a nice glass of wine is part of a great meal,” and I don’t disagree. But after having taken so many flights lately on dry airlines, I have to say that I find it refreshing in many ways. Just as I enjoy plenty of nice restaurant meals without drinking alcohol, the same is true on planes.

Would one glass of champagne with the caviar course be nice? Of course. But as anyone who likes to maximize value can relate to, one glass can quickly turn into a bottle when you’re having fun, and then you end up feeling pretty crappy when you land.

I’ve felt significantly better both during and after flights on dry airlines. Sure, alcohol with a meal might be enjoyable, but I don’t think anyone will argue it makes you feel better (well, maybe unless you have a fear of flying and it calms you down).

So in many ways flying dry airlines is almost like a semi-cleanse — you can indulge in great food, but you’ll still feel much better when you land.

Caviar in Saudia first class

Bottom line

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy flying an airline with a fantastic alcohol selection. Would I exclusively want to fly dry airlines? No, ideally not. However, personally I wouldn’t avoid an airline for being dry, and I think it’s possible to have a great meal and really enjoyable flight without alcohol.

To those who avoid dry airlines, is it because you find alcohol to be festive, you don’t think you can have a good meal without a good glass of wine, or what? How far out of your way will you go to avoid a dry airline?

  1. Mostly when I travel for business I am stressed. Not because of the flight, but everything else associated with the trip. So, a glass of wine/beer is a nice way to help relaxing.

    Having said that, I have many times flown drinking only water, so flying a dry airline would not be an issue for me.

  2. I wouldn’t avoid a dry airline if it fit my travel plans. Like you, I avoid alcohol on domestic flights. I usually have a glass of Champagne before the meal and a glass of wine with the meal on long haul flights overseas. I find it relaxing and much easier to sleep. And I don’t feel hungover the next day with only two drinks.

  3. Totally agree, I just drink the crappy wine on domestic flights to give me a little feeling of getting my moneys worth. But really, a bottle of wine they serve has to be less than $15, probably much less.
    And for international flights, if they would step up their food quality, wouldn’t care at all about liquor. So much for US carriers then.
    The flights that serve Beluga…..yumm….makes me want to book one somewhere.

  4. I don’t tend to drink much when I’m flying. In large part, this is because I’m a picky drinker that limits my intake under all circumstances. If there’s nothing special or unique, I’d rather not utilize my finite allowance of alcohol consumption drinking something boring.

    That said, I don’t love the idea of dry airlines for the same reason I don’t like the overall prohibition in the countries that host dry airlines. My inner (small l) libertarian bristles at being told what to do in general. When I’m being forced to comply with someone else’s religious beliefs, that reaction is magnified. And this isn’t an anti-Islam reaction either, at least not specifically. I bristle at India’s Hindu driven ban on beef and the US’s numerous state-level alcohol restrictions that exist to placate Christian extremists.

    So, do I have a problem with a “dry airline”? No. I take issue with being told what I can and cannot do based on someone else’s religious beliefs.

  5. I’d assume a sry airline has really good “mocktails” or juice drinks instead. However as I recall on one of your recent dry flights, it was like any other carrier minus the alcohol. Disappointing.

  6. Any airline can be one you don’t drink alcohol on. I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t reiterate something you’ve said in trip reports, namely that dry airlines are inventive with drinks. That is a thing I’d like to see generally. I couldn’t care less about drinking on a plane.

  7. That is a thing I’d like to see generally. I couldn’t care less about drinking *alcohol* on a plane.

  8. I am a muslim and i drink occasionally,when i am invited and served a glass of wine i drink a bit but never buy alcohol to bring home or drink in restaurant neither when flying.
    I have nothing against flyers who drink but i hate seeing people drinking just because they want to maximise the benefits of tgeir premium ticket,its like someone asking the FA to be served the 3 appetisers,3 main dish and a bit of all dessert on the menu,i dont like caviar and am not gonna order it as a way of maximising benefits.

  9. As someone who doesn’t drink very often, whether a dry airline is an issue for me depends on the time I’m flying. I know it violates pretty much every piece of advice offered by “experts”, but on a redeye where I’m having to adjust to a new sleep time, the only way I can make it work is by knocking down a few drinks. Yes, I feel a little heavy headed at the start of the next day. But if the choice is between 6 hours of sleep slightly hungover, vs. 2-3 otherwise, I’d rather deal with the hangover the next day. I am most definitely NOT a morning person, so I’d much prefer a little discomfort early to being a walking zombie the entire day from not sleeping. On a daytime flight, though, I couldn’t care less.

    @Mallthus, FYI, unless something has recently changed with the Modi administration, there is no “ban on beef” in India. You can get it, though it’s expensive, not very good quality, and availability is limited. Also good luck finding a chef who knows how to cook it properly.

  10. If one thinks flying in a dry airline is tedious, try working half the year in a dry country.

    Are dry airlines really that intolerable? No, absolutely not. Flying Saudia can certainly be a really enjoyable and relaxing experience. And I’m glad Ben has discovered this after his rather miserable experiences with SV last year.

    Having said that, if I do have a choice of flights I will always go for the one with vodka, even if it means a connection as opposed to a nonstop.

    Long haul flights are strictly ‘me’ time. I do not bring any work with me. I never schedule any work related activities on days of departure and arrival. Instead, I treat a long haul flight as if it were a14 hour micro vacation. I curl up in my seat with my books and bloody marys and just bliss out. At some point I will stare out the window for a couple of hours and just daydream. It’s quite a lovely meditative experience for me. And I don’t know why, but bloody marys just taste really, really good at 37,000 feet. Especially after having spent three months enduring assorted mocktails.

  11. So, TIL that Ben is now happy to forego $150 per bottle champagne in favor of buzzballs on Spirit.

  12. Defintely no “ban of beef” in India. In Kerala and the rest of Southern India you can find it on every menu. There are synogogs and churches and the history is Portuguese & Dutch immigration.

    As for drinking, part of the pleasure for me in upper class flying is the availability of world class wines and spirits. It would defintely impact my booking and enjoyment flying a dry airline.

  13. The alcohol selection is my least important factor when booking my trips so it’s irrelevant. I do enjoy a nice glass of wine or Gin and Tonic on a flight especially when it is to celebrate a business success.

  14. To me a glass of wine is part of a meal just as much as your favorite condiments are to you. I don’t over drink as wine in an accompaniment to the meal just as much as as mustard or salt/pepper is. you would not overdose on condiments and you should not with wine/champagne.

    Since an airline without wine/champagne would destroy all meals I would not. Unless of course the flight is short enough that a meal is not neccesary.

    And I have excellent wines on Emirates/Etihad and Qatar.

  15. Flying premium cabins is an indulgence. Consuming good alcohol and good food is an indulgence. IMO they go hand in hand. I would be fine with flying a dry airline in coach but never will I fly dry in premium cabins.

  16. Waiting for someone accusing Lucky is slowly converting to Muslim due to numerous flights with ME3 & Saudi, and transit in dubai/abu dhabi…..

  17. I ‘need’ alcohol to get through my monthly trans Atlantic trips in AA economy. Half a dozen vodkas and I forget about the crappy food, terrible seat and no entertainment on the 767 from Manchester!

  18. Boozing aka “gooning” in South Jersey summer lingo is pretty awesome in general but it’s the bees knees when it’s in first class int’l on a 12+ hour segment. You’re right, a great crew enhances the experience.

    I am an Irish/American lush with the virus. So I gotta be careful.

    1) Etihad first AUH-SYD–super attractive female crew and champagne
    2) Cathay first ORD-HKG–awesome crew great champs
    3) JAL first NRT-ORD–Crew did anything to make you happy.
    4) Qatar biz A380 ATL-DOH–A380 bar
    5) LH first FRA-EZE–A+ crew
    6) ANZ biz AKL-EZE–great wines!

  19. To each their own. More mile redemptions spread out over more airlines creates more opportunities for everyone! Yes, I think everyone should fly dry. šŸ˜‰

  20. I never drink on any flights. I enjoy drinking wine and a good cocktail but I do believe that no alcohol should be on planes.

    Most people I know suffer from her lag. I really do not. Alcohol is probably a primary cause of jet lag.

  21. I generally avoid airlines, dry or otherwise, that pray for me while being willing to cut my head off for being who I am.

  22. Both Kuwait Airlines and also Egypt Air used to serve alcohol, a long time ago. The decision to go dry came about years ago after their governments became more “Islamic”.

  23. Personally I could care less what alcohol is available even on long haul flights, of which I am on frequently. Yes, an occasional adult beverage may be nice, but is not necessary for me. Staying hydrated is more important. Frankly, I would rather have the airline invest in better and healthier food rather than better champagne. For some, the alcohol selection is key. But I believe for the majority of premium cabin passengers this is a first world issue. Ben, you may be happy when you get Don Perignon over Andre Cold Duck (well, we all would), but lounge, seat, service, and food are much more important on long haul.

  24. there is no hurdle Ben won’t jump over in defense of Muslim culture. am sure it has nothing to do with widely available, cheap, and luxurious flights & hotels.

  25. I definitely take exception to using ones Religion to dictate what everyone (regardless of their affiliation) must adhere to and accept. Therefore, I would not ever choose a Dry Airline.

  26. I’m an adult. I make my own decisions about what I consume. I don’t need an airline, a country, or even an entire religion to make those decisions for me thank you very much. I also have a choice as to where I spend my money or my time. It will not be with any dry airline. Ever. I’d rather walk.

  27. Dry airlines are normally in Asia and the Middle East due to being government owned airlines and they being Muslim majority countries (In Islam they cannot drink alcohol). It’s ok that they do that but I Wish they would have an extensive virgin drink selections. That would be good to attract more people to the airline.

  28. My bottom line is not flying airlines from countries that fomented an extremist strand of religious fundamentalism that has given us 9.11 and all the headaches with flying since then. That tried to destroy American efforts at energy self-sufficiency by dropping the price of crude to $10 a barrel to kill US shale exploration and exploitation. That jails and kills its own opposition (won’t even permit a true opposition or democratic government) and treats women as 2nd or even 3rd class by the standards of the modern world. One could go on and on about the two-faced nature of the Saudis as a reason never to fly their airline!

  29. When I was in my 20’s during the late 80’s, early 90’s business class was always a party at least on PanAm to S. America/ Europe. They liberally upgraded to “Clipper class”, their business class product, to their top tier members of their frequent Flyer program. We all were sat side by side so you’d usually share life stories and just get plowed. The social aspect was half of the fun of the flight and belonging to a select few that flew around the world a lot. Now with the pod and privacy shield products that doesn’t seem to happen as much. Even up until the final years The Concorde party started at JFK early in the morning. I hadn’t smoked in years but I did and drank Champ in the only smoking lounge at Kennedy. I don’t like to give my money or points to countries that oppress their woman or hang their homosexuals. Too many other choices.

  30. @Imperator I really can’t remember where I read this but I do remember something about tomato juice being something that holds up especially well at altitude and tasting totally different in the air than it does on the ground. Maybe that’s why!

  31. @DavidB
    But you still fly airlines from countries that gave us the world wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Lybia. Purveyors of death and destruction for the best part of our century.
    Countries where Asian men get dragged off airplanes with their faces broken, and kids get shot at schools constantly, countries that treat their minorities as 2nd and 3rd class citizens, where you may be murdered by police officers just for being black.

    Two can play that game, look at your own self before pointing your fingers at others.

  32. The nicer the food (like you describe) the more likely I would enjoy an appropriate drink or 2 to enhance the experience. As for boozing on endlessly during a flight, this has never appealed to me. I also know that that activity exacts a high price after the flight is over!

  33. @davidb
    Lol! Blaming someone else for your own stupid mistake….. typical murican hillbilly redneck… hahahahaha

  34. I haven’t had a drink while airborne in 40 years. Mixing even one glass of alcohol with altitude has always made me feel like I had the flu. Even if the liquor I’m drinking tastes superb, the after effects aren’t worth it.

  35. Flying on a dry airline wouldn’t bother me at all, but I’m not much of a drinker. I’d gladly take a dry airline with excellent FAs over an airline with a fully-stocked bar and typical US domestic FAs with attitudes.

    I do like a good glass of wine with a good dinner, BUT at altitude your sense of smell and taste is diminished, so even a good wine won’t taste great up there.

  36. @Ben, next time you fly QR in first, you can stick to ‘So Jenny’ the non alcoholic beverage. Nope, don’t touch the Krug, stick with the So Jenny and then get back to us about your experience. :p

  37. Up next:

    1. “Actually, I Love Ramadan and Here’s Why You Should, Too”

    2. “Learn The Shahada – Conversion In Just Three Quick Steps”

    3. “How To Betray Your Own; A Gay Man’s Love Affair With Islamic Culture”

    4. “How To Use Miles & Points To Attend An Execution of a Gay Man – It’s Easy!”

    Ben, you should have spent a day or two in school. As a gay man, you have no excuse for this insane pandering for islamic practices. I am not saying you should avoid the MIddle East entirely; as an avgeek, that would surely be limiting.

    I am saying you would do well to acknowledge you are being driven past prisons in the UAE where gay men are tortured to death for the crime of … being just like you. And that comes from an oppressive culture that dictates every bit of your life (it’s in that book, you know).

    Including the ban on alcohol.

  38. @DavidB The US went to the ME in the 70’s, supporting any dictator that would provide them with cheap oil.

  39. Would I stay in a dry hotel? No.
    (I actually almost did in 2010 though, different story)

    I believe in the choice and to be competitive they should be offering drinks, then it is up to each and everyone to consume if they like. I have lived in ME and have no problem to adjusting to the environment or showing respect for a culture/religion, but be forced to? Not for me.

    And in regards to juices and so on…it is never the same. A juice is a juice.

  40. I live in Riyadh and I usually fly on ‘wet’ airlines. As a previous poster wrote, the vacation starts as soon as you’re in the air. I also do not bring work on the plane and enjoy just relaxing. To that end, a few drinks help. I try to fly Business class on most flights.

    I will fly Saudia if the price is right. Early this year, they had a killer sale on Business class tickets to all destinations in Asia. Much too good to pass up. Return airfare to Manila in Business class was less that $800. Outbound was great; night flight and I slept most of the way. The inbound daytime flight seemed long. The scourge of dry airlines for me.

    Even the ME3 are dry within The Gulf, but those are short flights. And the thought of a wet stop-over is wonderful.

    So a deal breaker? Yes if the fares are the same. However, money talks and sings a wonderful tune when you save more than 50%. I have not found service on Saudia’s J-class to be award winning. Try them on flights that shuttle mostly workers to South or Southeast Asia.

  41. Royal Brunei used to serve tonic ice and lemon. FAs expected you to add your own gin that you’d bought in Duty Free.

  42. The availability of alcohol is irrelevant to me. I don’t drink much on the ground. I may have wine on a flight if it’s offered to me or I may not.

  43. I only drink alco on medium and long distance flights. So I’d take a dry airline for a 2-3 hour flight, but not more.

    And why can’t airlines give passengers a choice rather than denying them a choice?

  44. Jetagain,

    If you fly in a premium cabin, long haul, the probably a good $200 of the cost of the flight is the champagne etc. they figure you will drink, whether you do or not.

  45. For me it would be about economics…I’m they are charging +$5000 premium service and offering dry and mediocre soft product then forget it….for that price tag, even if I’M not consuming alcohol, I think the fare merits the presence of a top shelf bottle of Champagne/Prosecco/Cava…..

  46. @Robert.I.R. You most certainly can drink on intergulf flights with the ME3. DOH-BAH is an 18 minute flight and I can comfortably polish off a wine, beer, or scotch in that time frame.

  47. completely agree with william y. ben needs to stop kowtowing to the muslims. bunch of inbred backwards fuckwits.

  48. The airlines should not decide what you can do. I cannot decide before a flight whether I will or will not want a glass of bubbly or a glass of wine. Having this right taken from me is just wrong. I completely agree with airlines such as Qatar. Have wine for those who want it and for those who don’t… Well don’t. Someone mentioned that it was a reason not to have to travel with boozed up travelers. I don’t want to travel with anyone annoying. Whether smelly, loud, screaming kids etc etc. So with all this in mind, I would surely NOT fly a sharia airline. Because this is what it is, you are spending time in a sharia zone.

  49. It is fairly hypocritical however when the large percentage of passengers on these flights from dry countries are actually travelling to destinations to partake in the downing of copious amounts of alcohol.

  50. @jh~ ĆÆnbred backwards fuckwits” you say? I would say that inbred backwoods fuckwits are the 30% of the American population who were suckered into voting for the current President! And how’s that working out for you? LOL! The rest of the world is laughing at your ignorance.

  51. @SullyofDoha – Noted. I guess only flights to / from KSA then are dry.

    @Lizzie – There are few dry countries in The Gulf. KSA and Kuwait (I’ll skip Iran) and the great majority of Kuwaitis or Saudis do not consume alcohol. Expats are a different story… A lot of us (Westerners) can’t wait to be out of Saudi airspace when we fly on a ‘wet’ airline.

  52. @Martin
    Well, if the gate agents can denied boarding a passenger deemed rowdy, why can’t they do so to drunk one?

    Unfortunately, those muslims provide better airline experience than… say… US3 and BA? Qatar even won best airline by skytrax multiple times. Or maybe garuda indonesia, from a muslim predominantly country who won best cabin crew 4 times in a row? And saudi, while didn’t even near top ten, still manage to covet best improved airline, while united is busy beating up passenger and killing pet in cargo….

  53. glenn t, I’m not american. never have been, never will be.

    james, I would rather fly american or british carriers than muslim ones.

  54. @jh
    To each their own choice.

    But since this blog is about passenger airline, you can’t deny the fact that airlines from muslim or predominantly muslim countries are commonly on the better side.

  55. @jh “no, but thatā€™s because the staff have no choice, be great or be beaten.”

    The staff is given the choice on being good or getting fired. It’s actually standard practice in
    most service sectors in the United States. You probably didn’t know that since your not American and have no desire to be one (although you’d fit in well with the KKK and neo-nazis here).
    Nobody is asking you to kowtow to anyone. Fly whatever airline you like; same goes for the rest of us.

  56. This reads as some sort of very strange humblebrag. If you prefer to give your business to a company that will dictate your choices to this degree, go for it.

  57. Oh Lucky, come on. Of course it’s ‘not that bad’. Neither is flying Economy versus having a nice flat bed. And hey, anyone can slum it in a youth hostel, you don’t really need to stay in nice hotels. Heck, I once spent 24 hours travelling under a load of corn on a transport truck in Laos instead of flying Lao Aviation. In fact, you don’t even need to travel at all…just stay home and appreciate your local creature comforts. But that’s not why we read your blog. It’s the glitz and glamour (or whatever is left of it) of flying, part of which is the free bubbles, that makes this whole OMAAT thing fun. Take that away and it’s all just a bit…meh. Please don’t enable that any further. Next stop is you’re some super healthy vegan saying none of us should fly because of the carbon emissions. Again, I get and respect that viewpoint, but that’s not the point of your blog!

  58. Lucky, there is no “cleansing” semi or otherwise required. That’s what your kidney and liver are for. Unless you have abused them to the point they don’t function.

  59. PS : this semi cleansing you speak about is up there with your stance on speciality foods. Eg, you don’t eat foie gras, but hey let’s slit open a live sturgeon to get some caviar

  60. @william y.
    Have you read lucky’s article where he took a flight in the middle of ramadhan? FAs managed to complete meal service about 30 minutes prior to landing due to iftar/break-fasting. Speedy and efficient work!

  61. 1) When it comes to caviar, it needs to be eaten with champagne (or, in a pinch, good vodka) for the full effect.

    2) I flew a dry airline long haul once, and I won’t do it again. Granted, it was MS, who aren’t as high on the quality scale as Saudia, though I won’t do ANY business with the Saudis for moral and ethical reasons. The reason I won’t do it again is because long and medium-long haul flights tend to take place, at least for me, when I’m trying to adjust to time and rest from what is a long travel experience. Even in a premium cabin, this is a taxing experience and the extra help with sleep and relaxation is most welcome. It is, of course, also a question of value. There is a major value loss on a dry airline.

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