Galley Gossip: 5 reasons flight attendants don’t serve first class predeparture beverages

You’ve boarded a flight and you’re feeling pretty relaxed sitting in that big comfy first class seat. Sucka, you think to yourself as a couple of passengers check you out on their way to coach. Glancing at your watch, you wonder where the heck the flight attendant is because you’re dying of thirst and shouldn’t she be offering drinks right about now!

Predepartures. That’s what flight attendants call the drinks that are served before takeoff to passengers seated in business and first class. If there’s time flight attendants will walk through the aisle and take individual orders, but time is the keyword here. With so many full flights staffed with minimum crew, there’s usually not enough time to check the emergency equipment, set up the galley, hang all the coats, get passengers situated AND serve predeparture beverages. This is why flight attendants might choose to do a one shot service and offer passengers Champagne (if we have it), orange juice, and water- or nothing at all. Because it’s more important to get flights out on time than it is to serve drinks before takeoff.

What most passengers don’t realize is that it’s against FAA regulations for an agent to shut an aircraft door until all the overhead bins have been closed. If the agent can’t close the aircraft door on time, the flight will be delayed. If the flight is delayed (even by a few minutes) someone will have to take the blame. This means someone will get written up. If an airline employee is written up too many times for causing a delayed departure they might very well lose their job. On time departures are a big deal in the airline industry. So that gin and tonic the passenger in 3A is crying about is not a concern if passenger 23D refuses to sit down and passenger 14E can’t get her suitcase inside an overhead bin and the flight attendant working in the back is calling up front to let someone know there are seven bags on their way up that need to be checked.

Here are a few other reasons flight attendants might not serve you a drink before takeoff….

1. DELAYED BOARDING: Boarding is even more chaotic when a flight is delayed. If passengers are blocking the aisles waiting to get to their seats, flight attendants aren’t going to jump over them in order to serve drinks.

2. NO CATERING: Everyone is seated and the flight attendants don’t look very busy. Why aren’t they serving drinks? If the catering truck hasn’t come to swap out the carts they have nothing to serve.

3. THE GALLEY ISN’T SET UP: The catering carts do not come on board ready to go. Flight attendants have to organize them first. If we don’t do this during boarding, the service during the flight will be delayed. Besides organizing the carts, we also have to break up several bags of ice, count the meals, load the ovens, and make sure we have everything we might need for the service in flight. The one time I didn’t do this we took off without dinner plates and I had to serve first class passengers their entrees on cookie plates.

4. MINIMUM CREW: Nowadays most narrowbody aircraft (one aisle) are staffed with minimum crew. This means if we’re not greeting passengers at the door, we’re busy setting up a galley. In the past we used to have extra flight attendants on board to lend a hand to passengers who might need it during boarding and help serve food and drinks in first class. Not the case anymore.

5. DRY FLIGHTS: Some countries do not allow flight attendants to unlock the liquor carts until after takeoff. There are even a few cities in the U.S. where it’s against the law to serve an adult beverage on Sunday before noon.

Photo courtesy of Kevin H