Serving alcohol in planes legally

When flying, which country’s laws are used to decide how old you have to be to be served alcohol?

The country the airline is registered in? The country the plane last stopped at - or the country it’s going to? The country you’re flying over? Your own nationality?

Presumably, muslim airlines don’t sell alcohol at all?

If you did get served alcohol illegally by lying about your age, which country would you be prosecuted in?

I have flown on airlines of Muslim countries that serve alcohol. I know I’ve seen drinks on Turkish Air and I think Emirates. Garuda didn’t have alcohol, but I remember their duty free shops had booze in Jakarta.

They drink alcohol in both Turkey and the Emirates.

None of which answers the OP’s question. I’m interested in the answer as well, if anyone knows.

I would guess it’s up to each airline’s individual policy what they do once in international airspace. I believe that while over the territory of the originating or arrival country then those laws apply.

Every international Middle Eastern or Muslim country airline I’ve flown on has served alcohol to non-muslim passengers (Gulf Air, Emirates, Etihad, Garuda, Biman)

I don’t think the OP’s question has been answered.

For example, if a 20 year old is flying between Boston (USA) and Halifax (Canada), can he get alcohol on the plane? The drinking age is 18 or 19 in Canada and 21 in the US.

Does it depend on whether or not he is flying a US or Canadian carrier?

Does it depend on whether he is a US or Canadian citizen?

Does it depend on whether or not he is flying from Boston to Halifax or from Halifax to Boston?

Does it depend on what country the plane is physically located above? If this were always true, one could come up with a hypothetical situation of a 20 year old flying between two countries (say, Canada and Japan) where he can legally drink, who suddenly runs technically afoul of US law as the plane he is on passes over part of Alaska without stopping.

The likely truth is that every country has not quite consistent laws about this, or else that country has a policy vacuum. It probably also relates as to whether planes count as part of the country. E.g. when you fly between countries, at some point you have to leave the country you were in and enter the next country, which may not be the point where you pass immigration and customs checks, as the US now does immigration and customs checks at some Canadian airports before you leave Canada.

Possibly none. Some laws are worded in such a way as to criminalize the serving of alcohol to a minor; i.e., the minor herself isn’t committing a crime merely by consuming the proffered drink. Of course, this varies by jurisdiction.

I suppose that this question would apply to any criminal act carried out on a flying plane.

This may be tangential to your question, but I’ll pass it along anyway. The impression I get from section 7 of the Criminal Code of Canada is that Canada regards any aircraft registered in Canada and in flight as subject to Canadian criminal laws. So in your scenario, any criminal offenses committed aboard an Air Canada flight from Halifax to Boston, even if committed while in flight over US territory, would be subject to Canadian law. Once that aircraft touched down in Boston, however, it is subject to local law.

Now, there is one large problem with this principle and your scenario: neither underage drinking nor serving a minor is a criminal act in any province of Canada. It is a provincial offense, yes; but it is not a criminal offense under the Criminal Code.

Still, if the principles of the Code as to the jurisdiction inside the flying aircraft hold, then we can move towards answering your question: if the 20-year-old, who is not a minor under federal or provincial law, was flying on a Canadian-registered aircraft from Halifax to Boston, he could have a drink in flight. If he was flying that same Canadian-registered aircraft from Boston to Halifax, he could have a drink in flight. In short, the jurisdiction over which the aircraft is flying doesn’t seem to matter; what matters is the national registration of the aircraft and whether it is in flight.

This is a somewhat-educated WAG and I have no idea what would occur if the aircraft in question was registered in the US, but I hope it helps answer part of your question.

Not an exact answer to the question but…
I remember flying from Dallas to Atlanta on American Airlines back in the early 80’s when Coors beer was still not allowed in eastern states and I drank Coors. When we left Dallas I ordered a Coors beer from the attendant no problem, but later in the flight when I wanted a 2nd, she informed me I would have to have a different brand because we had crossed east of the Mississippi and she could no longer serve Coors.
I know this wasn’t what was asked but at least in this case the position of the plane over a certain territory did make a difference.

Great question. I never thought about it.

On Korean Airlines, flying from New York, they served wine and beer freely. I never thought about a 20-year old or 18 year-old.

My guess is they could get it. They refilled free(the wine), by the way. I think you had to buy a second beer, though.

[slight hijack]
I have ben told that when Portugal still owned Macau flights to and from Lisbon were considered domestic (the longest domestic flights in the World) and TAP’s policy was to only serve alcohol on international flights.
[/slight hijack]

I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but I watched an episode of Bones where a crime was committed on a US-originated international flight. The crime was under US jurisdiction until the plane touched down, and at that point, it would become Chinese jurisdiction (they were flying to China).

I’m thinking it might be where the carrier’s charter is from and where it originates. But that’s just an educated guess.

For what it’s worth, Air Canada does have this phrase on their webpage, regarding redeeming Aeroplan points for onboard purchases:

They don’t elaborate on what legal age is, though. The entire website refers to 18 years of age for passport requirements, purchasing tickets, joining the Maple Leaf club, etc, but that doesn’t say much given as 18 is the age of majority in Canada for contracts and such. Air Canada is headquartered in Québec, though, which has 18 as the legal drinking age.


I’ve flown several airlines into Saudi Arabia. None of them will serve alcohol in Saudi airspace. Once you’ve cleared Saudi, or until you arrive, they will, but not before. EgyptAir did not serve alcohol at all on their flights and Saudi Air Lines never served alcohol, but I’ve only flown them domestically (in KSA). They do have a handy guide on board to let you know which way is facing Mekkah.

Why was Coors not allowed in the eastern states?

The Coors company did not pasterize its beer and it refused to sell it in the eastern part of the U.S. because it said the beer would deteriorate in the time it took it to get to the east coast. If I remember correctly, someone sued the company over the right to transport the beer east and won the court case, thereby opening the whole country to Coors.

There was this case where it was decided that USAirways cannot serve alcoholic beverages while over New Mexico airspace or while on the ground in that state:

It’s been my experience that it is not uncommon for Flight Attendants to pull rules, regulations, and laws out of their nether regions.

Getting a legal lesson from a Flight Attendant is like getting a history lesson from a tour guide. She may have been right, or she may have been repeating some airline folklore.