The surprisingly good drinks you can get on a plane



There you are high in the sky, miles away from the world of…well, from the world. You would think that up at 30,000 feet you might be treated to a break from the onslaught of marketing that defines so much of life at ground-level places like, you know, the airport. Not so fast: airline companies know that flight time is brand-building time, and why not? You’re a captive audience — just think of all those dog-eared, digitally-resistant in-flight magazines. Savvy airlines take any opportunity to play to their business class and first class passengers by plying them with all manner of complementary high-end booze and champagnes, although that’s probably more to help them forget just how much cash they parted with to put a little space between themselves and pitiful coach flyers like yours truly. 


Enter the signature airline cocktail: reflective in some generally alcoholic manner of the flag carrier’s home city or state (or in the case of Singapore Airlines, city-state). In contrast to on-board wine lists which represent a substantial investment for fancy cat carriers like Emirates, and others like Qantas and TAP Air Portugal that showcase their countries’ grapes, the signature sky libation is a fairly low-maintenance way to put a sophisticated spin on a portion of in-flight catering that might otherwise represent a petite branding gap. For this, champagne is (usually) not required. For the flyer they are a way to set the mood, geographically speaking, whetting your whistle for the wilds of Finland or the beaches of Tulum before you even land, one artfully branded sip at a time. 


Herewith some highlights — in the main served only in business and first class.



Philippine Airlines  The airline’s signature drink is served as a pre-meal drink in business class: a semi-tropical medley of champagne, orange juice, sugar cane and mint.


EVA Air  The airline that brought you Hello Kitty livery (though we’re not totally sure why) also serves Exclusive EVA air cocktails, including the Evergreen Special (melon liqueur, vodka and Sprite) and the Aurora, with gin, Cointreau, green mint liqueur and Sprite or tonic water.



aircraft cocktails
Airlinesplaining the cocktail… Photo provided by Wonderlust



Delta  In Delta One, sip a Sunrise Cocktail. It’s got Bombay Sapphire Gin, cran-apple juice and a splash of ginger ale, with a serving of warm nuts on the side.


Aeromexico  serves complimentary tequila in all cabins after 11a.m. Ole! 


Singapore Airlines  The famously fruity Singapore Sling is served on request in all cabins.


United  In Polaris, “cocktail collaborations” feature drinks “imagined” by noted craft spirit makers and “beverage innovators” around the world. Think The Smoky Negroni, Prospector’s Smash, London Spritz. 


Vietnam Airlines  You can feel “the warm welcome of the sincere greetings of Vietnam Airlines while enjoying a sip of Beloved Hue cocktail, sipping a Phan Thiet Red Dunes cocktail with soft sweet red color, or you can even close your eyes to enjoy the rich flavor of Gongs Dance cocktail with the breath of the majestic Central Highlands.”


Their range of specialty cocktails is currently only available on flights to Japan, Korea, Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. 


ANA  Limitless Japanese sake and matcha in first class but interestingly there’s a signature soft drink! In the form of ANA’s Original Aromatic Kabosu (Citrus) which, in case you were wondering or plan on wondering, does include honey. 


Finnair  Signature drink on board here is the Blue Sky, created as part of the airlines’s A350 launch but served in all long-haul business class. It’s one part  Lapponia Blueberry Liqueur to eight parts Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut. 


Says Annina Metsola from Finnair communications, “Blueberry liqueur comes from Finnish nature and we wanted to mix it  with elegant champagne. Vodka is too heavy to combine with this liqueur.” It’s served in an Ultima Thule glass, today’s Finnish design classic, created by Tapio Wirkkala for Finnair’s first flight to New York in 1969. 


British Airways  No signature elixir per se, but they do offer a Buck’s Fizz or Kir Royale as welcome drinks in Club World and first class. The champagne used in Club World is Canard Duchene and in first, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle.


JAL  The signature SkyTime mocktail contains real yuzu (citrus junos) juice, but also has nigari (desalinized, purified seawater) “to replenish minerals that can be lost through stress.”


Saudia The signature cocktail aboard Saudia is nothing: no alcohol at all on this dry airline. 


Egyptair  No booze here either, but unlike on Saudia, you can BYOB.


Qatar Airways  While it’s not a dry airline, Qatar’s signature cocktails are actually mocktails such as the no-alcohol pineapple margarita or corniche cranberry refresher (pomegranate is involved) 



Wau Emas, in case you were interested… Photo provided by Wonderlust



Malaysia Airlines In first class, there’s the signature Wau Emas with pineapple juice, soda water, pandan syrup and a touch of lime.


Royal Air Maroc Welcome champagne in business class but also available is the “legendary” Casablanca, an original purely Moroccan blond lager


JetBlue  Signature cocktail in Mint class is Honey Infused Limeade with Grey Goose vodka, lime, club soda and of course, mint. 


Cathay Pacific  Signature cocktails in business and first have included the Cathay Delight, a minty mocktail with kiwi juice and coconut milk, and Pacific Sunrise (think pear vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup). Also served is Betsy beer, a brew made exclusively for Cathay Pacific from ingredients sourced from Hong Kong and other regions served by the airline.


Tradition counts: British Airways’ Buck’s Fizz Photo provided by Wonderlust

Turkish Airlines  Welcome drinks in business class are reported to be “homemade lemonade with fresh mint” and a kind of non-alcoholic fruit punch. Honorable mention: Turkish also serves complimentary Celebration Cake for its frequent fliers who reserve it three days before their flight.


TAP Air Portugal  You can count on a selection of up to a half-dozen sparkling Portuguese wines on virtually every long-haul flight on Portugal’s flag carrier — including in Economy. And if you think all sparkling whites from one small country are the same, think again: Porta 6 from the Lisbon area exudes an “appealing citrus aroma, green apple and pear notes” whereas Cabriz Espumante Special Edition Brut from Dão e Lafões, with its “fine bead, citrus notes, and green apple” has an “ engaging, creamy, dry, fresh palate.”


Thai Airways  In Royal Silk (business) class, a signature Violet Breeze is served as a welcome mocktail. It’s a blend of chilled lime juice and pressed Thai butterfly-pea blossoms. Royal First Class passengers get a flute of champagne.


Air France  Every three months there’s a new twist on the “So French” cocktail for First Class passengers, but the base is always a mix of calvados, cognac, armagnac, apple juice or champagne. Oh yeah, and free Champagne in coach.


KLM  The airline’s signature Flying Dutchman cocktail, served only in KLM World Business Class, features Damrak gin, Bols blackberry liqueur, fresh lemon juice and sugar syrup over ice.