Wheels up, bottoms up
Credit: Photo by Hero Images via Getty Images

A few months ago, I boarded a crack-of-dawn flight from New York to Portland, Oregon, wedged myself into a window seat, and tried my best to mask the disappointment when at the very last second, a person slipped into the middle. Any empty space around you on a cross-country plane is an unexpected pleasure, but the seat was hers and she was entitled to it (and the armrests—that's the rules). And seeing as we were in Economy Comfort seats, we were all entitled to free adult beverages. I opted for coffee because I was hoping to get some work done, and my seatmate—a very put-together woman in her mid-60s—ordered a double gin and tonic. And then another. And another. And another. And then a beer. Soon enough, she was giggling hysterically at Fever Pitch on the seatback screen. But was there cause for side-eye? About her cinematic predilections, possibly, but on the early-morning tippling—nah. It was offered, and someone else was doing the driving, so why abstain?

Yesterday, excellent author and journalist Katy Tur tweeted about a fellow passenger who'd made a similar decision, writing: "Some dude just ordered a gin and tonic on my flight back to NYC. It’s 7:17am." Tur appended it with a Ron Burgundy gif saying "And you ate the whole wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? I'm not even mad, that's amazing." So there was a bit of a wink to the commentary (and everyone was coming off a night of election returns), but that didn't stop fellow Twitterers from cracking back.

A few folks whipped out the word "judgy," and plenty shared the sentiment that "It's 5 o'clock somewhere." The people delivered a ruling—and I must say I concur—that on an airplane and in airport bars, time is moot. Drink up.

In an airport, you rarely know where someone's been, where they're ending up, what's taking them there, or what time it is in their psyche or circadian rhythm. People travel for pleasure, business, obligations, curiosity, grief, and a world of reasons. Some of them bring out the joie de vivre, boredom, or terror within us, and a drink may quell or amplify that. Sometimes it's just nice to have a drink.

A person is rarely in less control of their surroundings than when they're on a plane. Sure, some work can be accomplished (when the freaking wi-fi works), but for most folks, it's an extremely rare reprieve from having to be a functional human in the world. You're physically strapped to a chair, with a limited range of motion, thousands of feet off the ground. Intensely stressful, yes, but there's a freedom in giving in to that. Drinking on planes and in airports—and giving others the freedom to do so—is part of the social contract. You take off and poof! You are relieved of personhood for the moment. Maybe I'll join you.

That's not to say that this affords you the liberty to infringe on other people's wellbeing. It was a tiny bit stressful having to scoot past my seatmate and her amassed empties on my way to the bathroom (it was a very long flight), and boy, did the waft from the lavatory on a recent transatlantic smack us all in the olfactory system after the overserved fella across the aisle wobbled there post-turbulence, but those have been the exceptions. (And also perhaps the flight attendants might have encouraged spacers between cocktails.)

I dig a drink on a plane. Sky time is my time. A Woodford and orange juice (which I just learned is called a Kentucky Sunrise) is my inflight drink of choice, because in the air it’s 5 o’clock everywhere.