On my LOT Polish Airlines flight from Chicago to Warsaw, I witnessed an interesting interaction. I’ve never covered this topic before on the blog, so figured it could be interesting to discuss.
A LOT Polish Airlines pre-departure drink discussion
Shortly after boarding my LOT flight last night from Chicago to Warsaw, one of the friendly flight attendants offered passengers the choice of water or orange juice. Below is roughly how the conversation went between the flight attendant and the person seated in front of me:
Flight attendant: “Would you like water or orange juice?”
Passenger: “Do you have champagne?”
Flight attendant: “I’m sorry sir, they don’t allow us to offer alcohol on the ground.”
Passenger: “Oh, why is that?”
Flight attendant: “I don’t know, but it is the regulation. We can serve it for you once we take off, and we can serve it when departing Warsaw, but the United States doesn’t allow this.”
Passenger: “Then why is Lufthansa allowed to serve champagne on the ground? Discrimination!”
Flight attendant: “I don’t know, but these are the regulations that we have. I have wondered this too.”
The passenger and flight attendant probably discussed this for another minute, and both were just shrugging their shoulders about this. The passenger wasn’t angry — just genuinely curious — while the flight attendant couldn’t offer up an explanation.
Airlines have to pay taxes on alcohol served on ground
The correct answer isn’t that LOT isn’t allowed to serve alcohol on the ground in the United States, but rather that the airline doesn’t want to pay the taxes for serving it on the ground. Just as you can go duty free shopping prior to your international flight as a passenger, airlines can do the same.
For international flights departing the United States, airlines don’t have to pay taxes on any alcohol served inflight. However, they do have to pay taxes for any alcohol served on the ground.
Now, most decent airlines realize that many passengers enjoy a pre-departure glass of champagne, so they’re willing to pay the fairly small amount of taxes to offer passengers that. In these situations, you’ll notice that the galley carts are configured so that one cart is for drinks that can be served on the ground, and the other cart is “locked” until after takeoff, since taxes haven’t been paid on the contents.
Keep in mind that this policy doesn’t exclusively present itself in terms of whether an airline chooses to service alcohol or not. It can also impact the quality of alcohol that airlines serve. For example, Emirates is known for serving Dom Perignon in first class. However, if you ask for a glass of champagne on the ground, you’ll be served the business class selection, which is typically Veuve Clicquot or Moet.
Emirates is willing to pay some taxes on alcohol, but obviously not the amount of taxes required to serve Dom Perignon. If you do fly Emirates first class, this is why it’s always worth saving your alcohol tolerance for after takeoff. 😉
Countries have varying policies when it comes to having to pay taxes on alcohol served on the ground, so in the above example I’m just focused on the United States. Then you also have some countries that just outright ban serving alcohol on the ground.
For example, in the Maldives, airlines aren’t legally allowed to serve alcohol pre-departure. While they can serve it inflight, and they can serve it at resorts, the airport is in Male, where alcohol is banned.
When flying internationally out of the United States, airlines are only taxed for the alcohol they serve on the ground, and not for the alcohol they serve in the air. This is why you’ll notice that airlines have varying policies surrounding pre-departure drinks.
Some airlines will offer alcoholic drinks on the ground, other airlines will offer a more limited or watered down selection of alcoholic drinks, and other airlines will just not serve alcohol on the ground. Regardless of which option an airline chooses, this is a financial choice, and not some government ban.
What has your experience been with alcoholic pre-departure drinks?