US Airways Airbus A320 Tail. Image from US Airways.

US Airways Airbus A320 Tail. Image from US Airways.

Back in 2007 the state of New Mexico pulled US Airways liquor license due to an incident involving a drunk passenger in 2006. This passenger had a lot to drink on the flight and ended up killing six people including himself. Of course, this is a horrid tragedy and should have never happened, but one that is not the direct fault of the airline.

The FAA decided not to take any action against US Airways, but the state of New Mexico demanded the airline followed their Liquor Control Act and revoked their liquor license. Although the airline probably should have cut off the passenger from having more to drink, it was the passenger’s personal responsibility to make the decision not to drive, not the airline’s. Who knew if someone was to pick him up, he had a layover or was taking a taxi.

US Airways fought New Mexico stating that the state had no authority to stop them from selling alcohol since it was a federal issue. The airline took the state to Federal court and in October 2009, the Federal court sided with the state of New Mexico. US Airways was not satisfied with the outcome and took the case to the federal appeals court. Last Friday, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with US Airways, reversing the decision the previous federal judge made, stating that judge failed to balance state and federal interests. The court showed that the airline is already regulated by the Federal Aviation Act and the state must follow the 21st Amendment.

Now the case will head back to the district court to be re-tried, hopefully in giving US Airways the right to serve alcohol in all 50 states . Cheers to the 10th Circuit court for overturning New Mexico’s poor decision and US Airways for moving this case forward.

Source: Business Week

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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“Although the airline probably should have cut off the passenger from having more to drink, it was the passenger”s personal responsibility to make the decision not to drive, not the airline”s.”

That’s passing the buck. The airline not “probably” should have cut off the passenger, they DEFINITELY should have cut off the passenger. Some states have laws in effect now that place some liability of a bartender/party host when one of their guests leaves intoxicated and causes harm/damage/death. Why should an airline be exempt? I mean do bartenders always know if someone is to pick up the sot or if they would be taking a taxi?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen flight attendants continue to serve clearly intoxicated passengers. It is an exception that they’re cut off, even if visibly drunk (and when I see that on an airline I’m an elite on, the crew always gets a note of appreciation). Same goes for gate agents who look the other way when an intoxicated passenger boards a flight. I don’t expect airline personnel to be able to catch every drunk passenger, but it seems to me that they don’t try all that hard. Thinking that “well, maybe they have a layover,” or “someone’s probably meeting them”, or “they’ll get a cab” is a cop out.

People have the right to drink alcohol it is not illegal as long as they are of age. If the person wants to drink they should be allowed to. It is not a corporations responsibility what the passenger does after he leaves the plane. If they kept serving him after he caused an incident on their plane that is one thing. But not allowing people to be above the legal driving limit on alcohol when many people flying are en route to a vacation and are relaxing is ridiculous. Individuals are responsible for their own actions, this person made the decision to get behind the wheel intoxicated. The burden rests on them alone. If your argument is that he was intoxicated and had poor judgement. He was on a flight, he knew his destination and his transportation form prior to the first drink.

Who’s to say the guy didn’t go to the bar at the airport and get another drink? What has happened to personal responsibility? Everyone wants to blame someone else for their own mistakes… Should we sue our founding fathers for not anticipating all the trouble we are in now?

Are they prohibited from serving it anywhere in New Mexico or just flights originating and/or arriving in NM?

So, in the mean time, what do they do? Fly around N.M., close the bar when over N.M., of just not load any alcohol at N.M. airports? It really sounds like a lawyer game to me and not of much significance to passengers or customers. With note that I have not flown a lot in recent years, during those years when I was a regular, seriously drunk passengers were extremely rare. In most cases that I witnessed, the drunks were very politely cut off and that was the end of it.

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