Even for the chillest traveler among us, the perfect in-flight drink is always a welcome way to take the edge off airport (and airplane) stress. As ticket prices have crept ever higher in recent years, airlines have continued to innovate, finding ways to nurture a swell of new finely tuned drinking options that match the revived interest in cocktail culture on the ground. For example, KLM now offers draft beer. In this list, domestic and international carriers rub elbows with the best budget options and high-end flights, ensuring there’s a little bit of mile-high boozing for every travel need.
What you’re drinking: Glenlivet 12-year-old scotch in the air, but hit the lounge before take-off.
If you’re used to Virgin America’s international counterpart, Virgin Atlantic, the selection once you’re at 30,000 feet will feel a lot more standard (if fairly steady). But Virgin America blows away the competition on the ground through the sheer beauty of its lounges inside JFK and LAX. Day passes are available for $30 a pop at LAX and worth every penny, especially once you’re sipping a Mile-High Margarita or Runway Ruddy Mary beneath the swanky mood lighting.
One of the first airlines to truly embrace the revival of cocktail culture, Emirates is a drinking experience for those who like to think of travel itself as just as important as the destination. There’s a fine range of cocktail options across all cabins—Gin Fizzes, Dry Martinis—but it’s the legendary Bloody Mary with all of the fixings that you should assuredly have one (or two) of. The wine list is stellar, free and updated monthly, but be forewarned: If you want bubbles, that’s the only thing that’ll cost you.
What you’re drinking: Keep it simple with a post-dinner coffee spiked with Bailey’s.
Norwegian has worked diligently to upgrade its in-flight services over the past few years, seeing a steady increase in the number of flyers hopping on for a quick budget-friendly trip to Europe from JFK. While it doesn’t quite match the in-flight options of some pricier carriers (which also means ponying up for booze if you’re seated in economy), a number of new, thoughtful wine additions, like the Viña Pomal rioja and the Raimat chardonnay, are particular standouts.
What you’re drinking: The Silver Kris Sling, a play on the classic Singapore Sling featuring gin, orange liqueur, orange juice, pineapple juice and a Champagne float.
Singapore Airlines pretty much has it all and offers quite possibly the most robust and detailed cocktail menus of any airline. The gold standard is an above-the-clouds version of the Singapore Sling, but there are a handful of additional and equally tropical options that can please any imbiber, including the Solitaire Dreams (rum, pineapple juice, ginger ale and “sling mix”). Drink menus are often dependent on your flight, with new items being added constantly in response to both the season and growing collaborations with celebrity chefs. But rest assured: It’s always a pleasure.
With one of the most thoughtfully curated domestic flight menus in the U.S., Alaska Airlines is committed to spotlighting the local spirits of its region. The airline serves the likes of Alaskan Brewing Co. and Seattle-based Crater Lake hazelnut espresso vodka, in addition to a range of Walla Walla, Wash. wines. During December 2015, it even offered up a DIY in-flight cocktail recipe—the Alaska Air Holiday Punch—featuring Seattle gin producer Sun Liquor.
The bad news is you have to pay for pretty much everything on an Icelandair flight. The good news? Some of the liquor offerings are so local, and one-of-a-kind, it’s actually worth it. From Reyka vodka to the beloved national caraway-flavored schnapps, Brennivín, it’s a wholly unique drinking experience and an ideal way to prepare for (or reflect upon) a land of fire and ice.
What you’re drinking: Fino sherry—or Choya umeshu, if you’re headed to Japan
The wine and beer flow freely (and for free!) on board Korean Air, so get ready to feel laid-back very quickly no matter what kind of seat you’re in. Cocktail options like Whiskey Sours and a particularly good Tom Collins are ready and waiting, but the Tio Pepe fino sherry feels like a real mid-air luxury. Also, the comfy complimentary slippers make long-haul flights, even in economy, feel a little bit more posh.
What you’re drinking: Free Champagne (yes, really!) served in all cabins
Air France loves to boast that it’s the only airline to serve complimentary Champagne throughout all cabins, but it’s the mind-boggling wine list, curated by Paolo Basso, one of the world’s top sommeliers, that’s the real pièce de résistance. Post-meal digestifs are offered throughout the cabins at no charge, including cognac, which is the natural choice.
Honorable mentions: Cathay Pacific for top-notch, liquor-focused service, and Southwest, which recently launched a stacked no-fuss menu of $5 cocktail options for domestic flights