Who decides how many freebies I get?
August 1, 2012 2:33 PM   Subscribe

As sort of a parallel to this earlier question, how do flight attendants decide how much free booze to give out?

I fly a lot for work. I fly exclusively on Alaska Airlines, which puts me in the position of being MVP Gold (middle of the road as far as their frequent flier program goes). In coach, frequent fliers are offered a free drink. Many times the attendant will apologetically charge me for a second drink, but perhaps 10% of the time they will offer me as many as I'd like for free. How does this work? Who decides this, and what is it based on?
posted by Nabubrush to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Some people (children, tea totalers, people who are in the lavatory when the drink cart goes by, etc.) turn down their allotment of free booze. Maybe you get theirs.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2012

I fly pretty often too and it seems like one of two things; either:

1. Each flight is allocated a number of free drinks based on the number of frequent flyer members. For example, if there are 20 FF on a flight, there will be 20 free drinks allocated for that flight (actually probably fewer, perhaps 80% or 16 free drinks for 20 FF members). If other FFs don't claim their free drinks, the extra drinks are allocated to other FFs in a somewhat random way. Perhaps based on who they interact with most, who finishes first, who is served first, or who they simply like.


2. It's total chaos up there and sometimes you get lucky.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:03 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I fly on Alaska a lot too, albeit on short flights in small planes. I haven't ever experienced being asked if I'd like a second drink (or being charged for one) but I am almost always offered multiple refills*. I've wondered this too and watched closely, and my theory is that it has to do with how much liquid is left by the time they finish beverage service. If the last person on the plane wants a Full Sail IPA and they have to open a new 22 oz bottle to serve him a 6 oz glass, then flight attendants often wander the aisles looking for people who are drinking the same and will top them up. Depending on who's drinking what and how closely the flight attendants check with each other before opening another bottle, this can lead to some fairly generous refills.

Perhaps someone with more insider knowledge of Alaska can address this, though, since as I said I'm on short trips and there's not that much time to do a lot of damage.

*I always sit on the aisle and I always drink my beer slowly, so I tend to hold on to my not-yet-empty cup a little longer than others might! I think this makes it easier for the flight attendants to see what I'm drinking and easily ask if I'd like more. I don't think elite status has much to do with it, since I'm Alaska Nothing (but Delta Gold, which is a partner).
posted by stellaluna at 3:04 PM on August 1, 2012

I'm fairly sure there is a reconciliation done between amount of liquor left on the aircraft and the amount collected for alcohol sales. Flight attendants are given some discretion to provide free drinks as a method of customer service so it really depends on how generous and/or apathetic the flight attendant is. If you become a regular and you're liked I'm sure that would affect it.

I used to work for Alaska (not as a flight attendant). We were all given some latitude to make decisions that sometimes involved giving things away, however if it was excessive/outside the average it could have negative repercussions.

On preview: Stellaluna, the smaller/short flights are operated by Horizon Air and free wine/beer is part of the deal, though it is limited by flight length and how thirsty the whole plane is with respect to refills.
posted by uleekunkel at 3:07 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The official rule is that Golds get one free drink. It is quite common for a particular FA to ignore the rule and comp multiple drinks. Since it is entirely at their discretion, being charming or at the very least polite, is probably your best bet. However, you will find that some FAs are pretty rule-oriented and then you are going to get charged no matter what.

Many of the other answers in this thread are not considering that the free drink policy for Golds on Alaska is an official perk.
posted by Lame_username at 3:09 PM on August 1, 2012

I'll be marking your answer as best, Lame username, because it coordinates with my understanding of myself as charming.

All kidding aside, I always sit in row 7, so I get served long before the FAs have any idea what their outlay of booze will be (and I always get the single-serving bottle on Alaska so there's not a question of topping off, although on Horizon I will sometimes have the wine).

My main question was why some FAs would protest so much that they couldn't comp more than one when they obviously know I fly enough to make gold and therefore have been served more than one free drink on numerous occasions - and I guess the answer must be, as it often is, to avoid conflict.
posted by Nabubrush at 3:50 PM on August 1, 2012

FWIW, I flew Alaska last weekend and was given a complimentary drink because I 'was in the emergency exit row'. I have no frequent flyer standing with the airline.
posted by TDIpod at 5:51 PM on August 1, 2012

FAs give out free drinks in a number of situations where they technically aren't "supposed" to do so. If you do something to help them out, like change seats to accomodate a difficult passenger they will often comp you a drink. Once I gave up my first class seat to someone deserving and the gate agent told the flight attendant what I had done and she pretty much buried me in booze and snacks from the first class basket. They can do this because the booze is not well inventory controlled at all.
posted by Lame_username at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2012

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