Sunday, March 6, 2011

Airline Wine? I'll Pass

When the airplane reaches 30,000 feet and the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign, it is time for the drink cart to come down the aisle and serve up beverages for all the passengers. But if you want something with a little more kick, you have to pay for it, unless you fly first or business class. I am not one to spend money on an alcoholic drink on flights, but if I ever decided I absolutely needed a glass of wine, I want to know it is worth $5.

Unfortunately, most airlines do not have the best wine selection. According to wine experts, most U.S. airlines are pretty cheap with their wine and have been for over 40 years. Basically, if it is passable, they will serve it. There are two reasons for this, according to sommeliers and wine lovers alike, the first is that airlines tend to serve wine from quarter size bottles that could sit around for months at a time, and removing oxygen from planes is difficult, leading to wine spoiling much quicker. The second reason is that wineries will save their least desirable batches for those small bottles, meaning that airlines can purchase them at a very low cost, and then charge you an arm and a leg for low quality wine. Now, if you happen to be sitting in business or first class, the wine selection is a lot better. But the majority of people fly coach, so they get the cheap stuff to sip on.

Business Traveller magazine recently held its annual Cellars in the Sky competition--which analyzes wine served in business and first class on airlines around the world. American Airlines was the only U.S. carrier to receive an award: First place in the "Business Class White" category. All other top honors went to non-U.S. airlines, with Quantas and Air New Zealand leading the way. (I guess they know how wine is done down under.) Wine experts say that European, Australian and Asian airlines understand about quality, and consider it a point of pride.

Some airlines are making an effort to improve the wine selection on flights. Like JetBlue. It does not have a business- or first-class cabin, so everyone flies coach. In an effort to keep its customers happy, it serve one white and one red at a time, switching brands every six months or so. The wines are purchased from a wide variety of locations, which is something many airlines avoid, and JetBlue likes to keep things fresh and new for travelers.

For many travelers, having a glass of wine on a flight is not a necessity, and many just choose one of the free options, like water, tea, coffee or soda. However, there are some who would enjoy a drink while soaring thousands of miles in the air--it certainly helps to calm the nerves a bit, or provide a nice buzz after a stressful business trip. It seems only right that those select few should be able to drink something a little more palatable than the remaining 4-ounces of liquid from the bottom of the barrel. I think it is definitely an area of customer service that should be improved on by the U.S. airlines.

So, for now, maybe you should forgo that alcoholic beverage for something free and tasty. If nothing else, just order a beer, you know that is usually a safe bet.

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