Minimum Drinking Age On Planes?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

I often receive questions from young readers asking about drinking ages on various airlines, and whether it’s okay to request a drink on a flight to/from the US when not 21.

It’s an interesting topic, though to be honest up until I was maybe 22 I didn’t drink much at all (I still don’t drink all that often). But what is the minimum age to drink when you’re flying internationally?


As a general rule of thumb, the drinking age of the country where the airline you’re flying is registered determines the drinking age of the flight.

But it’s not always that straightforward. Some airlines follow the drinking age of the country the flight is departing from, should it be higher than the drinking age of the country the plane is registered in.

And to complicate things even further, the rules can vary depending on the stage of flight you’re in. For example, generally when you’re on the ground in a country and the plane’s door is open, that country’s minimum drinking age consistently applies. But these are all technicalities.

All of this is to say that the minimum drinking age on planes isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. But really that’s a good thing, because as long as you’re acting responsibly, that works in your favor.

Alcohol is very taboo in the US, though outside the US for the most part isn’t a big deal. So if you look and act the part, generally you won’t be denied alcohol on an international flight, even if you’re technically underage (of course there are limits, and it all depends on how old you look). Furthermore, in the event you’re denied, it’s no biggie. International laws are complicated, so it’s not like they’ll have the police waiting for you upon landing if you request a drink underage — you can just say “oh, I thought the drinking age was _____.”

Speaking of international laws and alcohol, I even got denied alcohol yesterday in New Zealand. I’m 25 going on about 45, and have had no issues ordering drinks in New Zealand until yesterday. I tried to order a Sauvignon Blanc, and was asked for my passport. The drinking age here is 18. I didn’t have my passport on me, and she refused to accept my US driver’s license as ID. But she tried to put a positive spin on this — “you don’t understand, this is a good thing, it means you look like you’re under 25, which is the point at which I have to ID.”

Just goes to show you how inconsistently IDing can be!

To the young ones among us, what has been your experience ordering alcohol on international flights?

  1. Any US airline will not serve anyone under 21 regardless of which country you’re flying From/to. 🙁

  2. Was refused “champagne” on the ground flying MAD-DFW J on AA when I was 18, even while traveling with parents. The FA said since it was American metal that it was America rules (even though most American restaurants/other serving institutions will serve you alcohol when with consenting parents). The FA later proceeded to dump boiling hot ravioli on me during the dinner service. Can’t say that was my favorite flight.

  3. for my son (now 21), it mattered which class he sat in (domestic and international). In Business there was never any questions about his age, coach was always a different story

  4. I was denied a Pisco Sour on a LAN flight SCL-JFK a few years ago when I was 18, even though we were still over South America. I tried to make that point to no avail. I was also traveling with my father, who was sleeping in the seat next to me, so perhaps the FA thought I was trying to pull one over on him, though he certainly would not have cared.

    Even I was 16 and 17, when I traveled in domestic F I was often proactively offered alcohol, and when I once said, “Well, I’m not 21…” the FA laughed and said she doesn’t even think about that anymore. Other times, I tried to prompt the FA to offer me alcohol by asking what else they had on offer, and they clearly tried to avoid offering me without asking for ID. And when I traveled in domestic Y, I never even asked, because I knew I could not order and have to pay for alcohol without being ID’ed.

  5. So, how does that apply to Canadian carriers? Legan age in some provinces (BC, for example) is 19 while others (Alberta) is 18. Complicated indeed. 🙂

  6. I’m fairly young for hobbie(I’m 18). Never had a problem being served when I was 16-17 on any international carrier, or in any lounges overseas.

    One would be surprised by much infrequent flight attendants card on flights vs what would you normally get on the ground. In my around 100 segments of US flying, the only time I’ve gotten carded was on delta flying to HKG in Y. Admittedly I do look slightly older for my age. Though I still get carded around 50% of the time in lounges. I came to the conclusion that FAs either don’t receive the training to card, or feel a sense of security when they’re in the air knowing that no one’s gonna care

  7. Just realized how atrocious the typos were…

    p.s. Met up with a FlyerTalker the other day flying QR F. He had a (very) good laugh upon finding out my age 😀

  8. Most of my flying is domestic US.

    I was first served when I was 18, and have only been denied once before turning 21. For the most part, FAs simply don’t care. It’s dubious whether you are actually breaking any laws anyway, since there is technically no federal drinking age, and states don’t have jurisdiction over airspace.

  9. Well, in July I was 15 and travelled from London to LAX on AA alone. Before take off FA was serving drinks and when she came to me, she didnt say anything – just smiled. So I took a glass of champagne. Later, during the flight she came with another passenger and asked me if she could show her how the table works (after 5 hours goddamn?!). I let her do it. After it they went away without a word. Finally the FA came to me, smiled, put her hands on her heart, said “thank you” and waited for my reaction. I was kinda shocked but thought of an occassion. I asked her if she could give me some champagne. She didnt refuse. When drinking I decided to go to the restroom (seated in 4J) and met her in the galley. She said “are you ready for refill?” 🙂
    On my way back with BA I wanted a glass of wine. FA asked me if I was 18. I lied and she told me I looked young :)))

  10. I recently travelled LHR-LAX on American. If it was BA I would have no hesitation ordering alcohol, but because it was a US airline and the US is a little OTT about alcohol (in my opinion) I didn’t even consider requesting any. I’m 19 and travelled alone.

  11. When I was 8 I once got a Mimosa in first class in United. I thought it was some weird tasting orange juice. I could only drink about half.

  12. I don’t think I was ever carded on an airplane when I was a minor (a while ago). I did, however, receive bottles of wine from the crew on occasion even in my teens. Back then, my only concern was how to get them into the countries where I wasn’t of legal drinking age. 😛

  13. Mostly I’ve gotten alcohol no questions asked on UA – except for a flight last year in Y on UA on EWR-BCN. I asked for a beer and the FA immediately said “I need to see some ID” and I obliged. Then again, I’m used to getting ID’d on the ground as I have a baby face 😉

    Once on LAN I asked for a water and the FA gave me a red wine…I was 16 at the time.

  14. Was in UA domestic F in a dark cabin and was repeatedly offered plenty of alcohol during the flight. I was 18 at the time, so maybe I look older in the dark.

  15. Flying Virgin Australia J trans-con SYD-PER, asked for a scotch on the rocks (not a great idea as their scotch isnt great for drinking straight) and I was asked for ID. I was wearing a suit since I had come straight from the office and when the FA saw my ID saying I was 20, she just said, “my god, these J passengers are just getting younger and younger”. Assume this was meant to be a compliment 😛

  16. Has anyone actually ever had a FA ID them? On an AA LAX-JFK I ordered a screwdriver and the FA said “Are you 21?” and I said “I’m 26 do you wanna see my ID” he said “No, just tell me your 21 and I’m fine.” So I said I was over 21. I think they just need to cover their asses. But if I was 20, I’d just say I’m 21. As Ben said, just play the part.

  17. Travelling MUC-SFO in April in Y. Wonderful, wonderful FA was doing the last pre-landing cart round with red wine and Bailey’s hoping to empty the bottles so as not to waste them. Came to me and asked “Bailey’s oder Wein” and I said I’m 15, so she said “it’s ok my son is 15 and he can drink wine” so I was like “sorry I’m Muslim too” she was like “okay then”

  18. In my experience, airlines are extremely lax about this if they aren’t US-flagged. I’m 19, and have had no trouble taking full advantage of onboard bars (both of the fixed and mobile persuasion) to/from the US–and otherwise–for several years. That being said, I tend to dress more formally than your average teenager, and am a bit of an oenophile, so I can act the part. I think the key here is confidence–flight attendants are much more likely to serve someone who is polite and engaged about the selection than someone who seems as though they have something to hide. In the US, it’s more of a mixed bag–the same principles apply of course, but my success rate was marginal when I was under 16, and is still hit-or-miss today.

  19. I was denied once on KL to AMS from the US, but have always been served on AF and LH both from and to the US. Have never tried with the big 3 even on international flights. In my experience, if you go for champagne on the ground and the FA doesn’t say anything, it is ok.

  20. Many years ago in BA F, you used to get a menu of cassette tapes as your movie choice.

    I got refused a Rated : 18 movie!

    Now recently I had this exact alcohol issue pop up flying from JFK-DXB. The purser wasn’t sure what to do, we looked for something official in the manuals but there was none.

    She said they were American, so we decided not to serve them. Firstly they aren’t used to Alcohol, and I don’t want a bunch of vomiting kids on the long flight.

    Secondly, If 15 mins before boarding they would be in trouble for it, being now locked inside a plane shouldn’t nullify the drug laws/customs they’ve been brought up with.

    If it was European 18 yo’s then I’d be happy with them being served as the laws/culture they’re accustomed to differ.

    Tricky decision though, it’s a grey area.

  21. The fines are very substantial for serving alcohol (and even selling cigarettes) to underage people. It’s not just a big fine for the organisation but for the individual as well. When selling cigarettes I would need to ask ID for anyone that looks ~25 or less, otherwise I could have been personally be fined $10 000.

  22. I’ll never forget the first time I flew BA BOS-LHR (as an 18 y/o) and asked if I could have a bottle of wine despite the drinking age in the U.S.

    “Oh, yes, of course. You’ve left all that behind now. Red or white?”

  23. Common denominator is being served alcohol is that I ALWAYS found that male FA’s would offer/pour more frequently than female. Was even given a bottle of Pinot Noir before landing by a male FA on a Qantas SYD-LAX flight. Along with his contact info for his LA turnaround 😉 Ahhh … to be 19 again …….

  24. Like you, Lucky, I find that the differences are mostly cultural. On most European / ME3 carriers, they’re almost too eager to offer alcohol, while the US3 tend to be more conservative (for example, during PDB service, I’m almost always asked “are you 21?” or they offer the OJ/water only).

    That said, I’m 20 going on 40, and tend to dress more formally than most my age, especially when flying a premium cabin.

  25. I’m 24 and I got asked for an ID two weeks ago on UA F, SLC-SFO, for a beer… It was the first time of my life I have ever been carded by a FA … It was odd!

  26. I used to routinely get served when I was under even 18 going to / from the UK, even on Continental. As an interesting side story, I was sitting at a bar when in NZ around the same time, eating dinner and having 2 relatively quick pints. I watched about 10+ separate people during this dinner (none of which looked under 25) get asked for their passport and promptly denied service after failing to produce it. I asked the bar maiden about it since it seemed a little odd for the bonus vigilance (especially in a country where alcohol is treated similarly to the UK), she said the government is in the middle of an extremely aggressive crack down on bars serving minors.

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