What makes for a good flight these days? Timely departure? Inflight movies that don’t suck? Sexy seatmate? Celeb-chef–designed dinner menu? Sure, that all helps. But the best way to relieve cabin pressure is to drink better — before and during the flight.
That’s why we’ve ranked the world’s best airlines for drinking. From complimentary cold ones in coach to incredible airport lounges, from killer wine selection to the best top-shelf liquor options, these eight airlines will quench your thirst while you brave the often-less-than-friendly skies. Next time you’re booking a flight, choose wisely. Cheers!
8. Malaysia Airlines
From its hub in Kuala Lumpur, the national carrier of Malaysia serves over 100 cities on six continents. Flight attendants dressed in rather chic kebayas kick off each international flight with chilled guava juice, mineral waters and complimentary glasses of cold Tiger Beer for all cabins. Don’t be shy about requesting a refill, either.
7. South African Airways
A longtime supporter of its national wine industry, SAA made headlines in the ’90s by creating a trust for nonwhite South African winemakers. The annual selection of its inflight wine list, now in its 26th year, is a three-day tasting event attended by 1,000 local contenders. Do your part by raising a glass of one of the 70 homegrown wines served on board, like award-winning Western Cape sparkler Philip Jonker Entheos Brut NV.
6. Japan Airlines
On Japan’s national carrier, shochu, not sake, is king: world-famous Morizou as well as wheat shochu Kanehachi are top orders in first class cabins. And they’ve got fairly stiff competition: JAL’s wine list includes bottles from local vineyards Kusuda and Kenzo, and is developed by Fumiko Arisaka, editor of culinary magazine Vinoteque. And for teetotalers in transit, JAL offers Royal Blue Tea, a high-grade Chinese tea aged in wine bottles.
5. Cathay Pacific
CX treats inflight drinking with the respect it deserves. A team of international consultants develops the onboard wine program, blind tasting bottles that have already been flown long-haul to ensure quality control. In May 2012, they added six grand crus Bordeaux to the 70-bottle inflight list. Boozehounds sitting in Business and First can also sample one of Cathay’s four signature cocktails, thoughtfully rotated based on seasonality in departure city.
4. Air France
The only airline to offer complimentary Champagne in all cabins, Air France provides a distinctively French experience en avion. To add some luxury to your layover, finagle your way into AF’s first class lounge in Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 2. The Didier Lefont–designed space serves an Alain Ducasse menu accompanied by award-winning vintages like a premiere cru Sauternes and a Domaine du Chevalier Bordeaux.
3. Etihad Airways
Want to go big before you go home? The national carrier of UAE offers complimentary bar service in all cabins, and keeps 110 chefs on staff to pair cocktails and an extensive wine list with Diamond First Class meals. At the first class lounge in Abu Dhabi, cigar bar connoisseurs will match cognacs and Armagnacs to your stogie of choice. At the Champagne bar, you’ll sip Billcart-Salmon in a sleek space fitted with Bang & Olufsen electronics.
2. Singapore Airlines
Rumored to spend 10% more on F&B per passenger, service on SIA is, in a word, superlative. Feel free to test flight attendants’ impressive knowledge of the inflight cocktails and wine lists; the latter is customized by itinerary with local bottles indigenous to the route. The airline’s take on the Singapore Sling, the Lion City’s century-old signature cocktail, incorporates dry gin and Angostura bitters, and is the only Sling served in the air.
1. Virgin Atlantic
Hands down, the best airline drinking is on Virgin Atlantic. Clubhouse Lounges at LHR and JFK are consistently more enjoyable than the entirety of New York City’s Meatpacking District, and all planes have onboard bars stocked with Grey Goose and Aberfeldy single malts. Head of Inflight Services Simon Soni contends “Love” is the main ingredient in Virgin’s success, though we suspect the inflight wine list, curated by Berry Brothers and Rudd of London, may also play a part.
More food and drink while traveling: