By Andrea Romano
November 02, 2019

There’s nothing better than treating yourself to a little cocktail on a long haul flight.

However, not all cocktails are made alike when you’re in the sky. Not only are flight attendants strapped on time, space, and sometimes even booze, but your own taste buds could get in the way of that delicious and enjoyable inflight beverage.

If you’ve always wondered why certain drinks taste better — or worse — in flight, you’re not alone. Your taste buds react to food and drink a little differently when you’re in the sky. You just need to know what to order.

Travel + Leisure spoke to Chicago nutritionist Lauren Grosskopf, MS, LDN, to see which cocktails taste best at 36,000 feet.

“Generally flying causes a combination of things that reduces our sensory experience,” said Grosskopf. The dry air, cabin pressure, and even the noise on the plane — according to Grosskopf — can make your drinking experience dull or unpleasant.

“These factors in combination with an entirely new environment and travel exhaustion can affect our ability to taste and enjoy food,” said Grosskopf. “Sweetness and saltiness are normally impacted.”

The best way to choose your cocktail is to think about the ingredients. “Stick with one that has a stronger flavor profile — citrus, ginger, tomato, etc. These are all great options if you're looking to enjoy a cocktail on a plane,” said Grosskopf. As a caveat, she noted that drinks with too much acid (such as tomato juice or citrus juice) can result in an upset stomach or heartburn if you’re susceptible to these issues.

Grosskopf said that a bloody mary, gin and tonic, Moscow mule, and a mimosa are all “safe bets” on flights. She also noted that a glass of wine can be refreshing if you’re not into spirits.

These are a few cocktails that are particularly popular with travelers.

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Bloody mary

Flavor profile: tomato, celery salt, spice

It’s easy to see why a bloody mary is a popular choice on a plane. Even if you’re not into this drink on the ground, you’ll be pleased to know that the dry air and airplane pressure can actually make this drink taste sweeter — so drinking it inflight is ideal.

“This would be a great drink to order on a plane. Acidic and balanced with some savory flavors,” said Grosskopf.

Moscow mule

Flavor profile: bubbly, sharp ginger, citrus

This cocktail was actually Grosskopf’s inflight drink of choice. “The flavors are strong and refreshing and the ginger helps ease stomach upset with nervous fliers,” she said. The strong ginger beer and lime combo make this cocktail a nice sipping drink, so there’s less of a chance of getting too drunk.

Gin and tonic

Flavor profile: mostly bitter (depending on the gin), citrus, bubbly

If Moscow mules are too strong for you, a simple gin and tonic is not only easy for a flight attendant to serve, but it’s also a cool and relaxing cocktail for people who want something a little more subtle. Of course, “subtle” on a plane can run the risk of being flavorless. “A lime garnish could be a nice touch to help increase flavor,” said Grosskopf.

Honestly, is there any other way?

Mimosa

Flavor profile: citrus, bubbly, sometimes sweet

As Grosskopf said, sweet flavors can often become more dull when you’re in flight — so if the Champagne, prosecco, or brut is combined with extra-sweet orange juice, this might not be a great choice. But, if your flight is serving up mimosas with a nice, dry sparkling wine and a tart juice, it could make for an excellent morning drink.

Similar to the bloody mary, tart, sour, or acidic flavors will taste sweeter in the air.

Rum and Coke

Flavor profile: sweet cola, bitter bite of rum

If your go-to soft drink is an ice-cold can of Coke, then you’ll probably enjoy this adult take. Sweet sodas can taste different in the air, but a “bitter bite” of rum, as Grosskopf said, can make for a good combination.

Much like the gin and tonic, adding a twist of lime to your rum and coke (also known as a Cuba Libre) can enhance the flavor. Just avoid ordering a rum and Diet Coke, since diet drinks are notoriously extra fizzy on flights.

Scotch and soda

Flavor profile: bubbly, smooth, smokey

The smokiness and bitterness of this drink might actually taste just as good in the air as it does on the ground, so it’s a good bet for Scotch drinkers. Plus, if you’re a nervous flier or could use some effervescence to settle your nerves, the bubbly soda is there to help you out. This drink is also a good option for people who don’t want too much acidity or sweetness.

There are plenty of other drinks that can be ordered in the sky, but many are either variations on the cocktails above — such as a bloody maria or a gin rickey — or contain ingredients that may not be readily available inflight.

For example, you could request a Tom Collins (gin, sparkling water, lemon juice, sugar, cherry, lemon wedge), but your flight may not have maraschino cherries or lemon juice. In general, it’s best to stick to two-ingredient cocktails.

An Irish coffee can be a great choice for people who want a jolt as well as a cocktail — but the water used to make inflight coffee may not be filtered and could have bacteria. Bottled beverages are usually much safer.

And because flights have dry, circulated air, dehydration can be a problem, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Remember to also order a bottle of water with your cocktail so you’ll be healthy and refreshed when you land.

Cheers.

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