While many travelers have an affinity for airplane food, it’s a fair guess that no one boards a flight riddled with anticipation of sipping great cocktails.
The mixed drinks served at 30,000 feet (understandably) tend to lack the cache and creativity you’ll find at your average bar on the ground. Up in the air, the wildest cocktail on the menu is often a Bloody Mary (sans celery accoutrement, of course). Still, there’s no need to splurge on those fancy cocktail kits–there are actually a wealth of cocktail combinations hiding in plain sight, tucked away on even the most basic in-flight beverage cart. Use these easy, right-off-the-drink-cart recipe hacks to create your own personal cocktail bar and watch your in-flight cocktail game take off on your next flight.
Get your hands on a bottle of rum (preferably white) and then mix it with equal pours of cranberry juice (or cran-apple), orange juice, and pineapple juice over ice. Many planes won’t have pineapple juice, so you may need to skip this ingredient. For some extra tang, sprinkle in a half-packet of True Lime (if they have it and JetBlue often does)–each packet of crystallized lime juice is equivalent to the squeeze of approximately one wedge. Of course, you can also us a squeezed lime wedge.
The Michelada isn’t for everyone but it’s a damn delicious drink to many. This spicy beer cocktail, somewhat akin to a Bloody Mary, is said to have originated in Mexico back in 1910 when a military general wanted to add some kick to his soldiers’ beer. You can whip up an in-flight version by grabbing a cup with ice, beer (preferably Cerveza), Bloody Mary mix, and either three or four lime wedges or two packets of True Lime. Fill your cup one-third full of Bloody Mary mix, squeeze in two lime wedges (or one packet of True Lime), add your beer, then top with the remaining lime, and stir.
Finding a beverage cart with the correct ingredients to make a White Russian can be a struggle, but if you find yourself with access to Kahlua, vodka, and little pods of creamer, you’ve hit the jackpot. Grab a cup of ice and fill it one-third full of Kahlua, layer on another third of vodka, and top it off with the milky good contents of two or three creamer pods. Kahlua can be a bit of a unicorn, but if you’re up for the challenge, you can make your own in-flight variation with easier to procure ingredients. Order half a cup of coffee over ice, vodka, Baileys Irish cream, and two extra cups of ice. While your coffee cools, set your vodka and Baileys to chill in the extra cup of ice. After a few minutes, pour equal parts cooled coffee, chilled vodka, and chilled Baileys over your remaining cup of ice and slowly mix together.
Rough morning or late night? Give your in-flight cup of coffee a kick from the beverage cart by making it an Irish coffee (because, hey, it’s 5 a.m. somewhere). Ask for a cup of coffee with room for cream, a bottle of whiskey (Irish, if they’ve got it), sugar packet, and two creamer pods. Start off this coffee cocktail by stirring in the whiskey and half a packet of sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, top it off with one or two creamer pods to taste. For an extra-strong cup of Joe, swap out the creamer pods for Baileys Irish cream.
If you’re flying during cold season or just find yourself freezing on a flight, try mixing up a cozy hot toddy. Delta’s drink cart makes for the best hot toddies since they are the only airline to carry Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which covers both the whiskey and honey elements of the drink. Otherwise, you’ll have to stop by the food court to snag a few condiment packets of honey on the way to your gate. When you’re ready to hack, order a hot black tea with room, add a bottle of whiskey or bourbon, squeeze in your honey packet, and finish it off with a squeeze or two of lemon or one packet of True Lemon to taste. Lime can be used if there are no lemons onboard.
A Bloody Maria is the sister cocktail to the Bloody Mary–you just switch out the vodka for tequila. The change in taste is subtle, but each drink has its crew of staunch supporters. To make an onboard Bloody Maria, mix two-thirds Bloody Mary mix with half a miniature of tequila over ice and top with a squeeze of lime or one True Lime packet. If there’s no Bloody Mary mix just use regular tomato juice and jazz it up with pepper packets and more lime. It’s not ideal, but it does the trick–which is all you can ask for from a plane drink, honestly.
INSIDER TIPWhile every airline has vodka on their drink cart, finding tequila is rare, though you’ll find it on both Southwest and Delta.
This salty, citrus cocktail is a cinch to make on Southwest since they’ve got both tequila and margarita mix right on the drink cart. If you can only manage to rustle up some tequila, make your own mix by stirring together equal parts orange juice and lemon-lime soda, and then adding two squeezes of lime or a packet of True Lime and a shake of salt. If you want to get real fancy, salt the rim of your cup by pressing it on a dampened cocktail napkin and then on another napkin sprinkled with salt.
Wine is also available on the drink cart and making your own sangria can come in handy if your flight is only doing a beer and wine service. Fill a cup of ice halfway with red or white wine and then mix in equal parts orange juice and cranberry juice (or cran-apple juice if that’s all they’ve got). You can also go for a 1:1 ratio of wine and orange soda, but fair warning: This is a dangerously tasty combination that comes with a high chance of a hangover.
For a refreshing beer cocktail, try mixing up a beer shandy mid-flight. This drink, and variations of it, have roots in both England and Germany, where it’s traditionally made by mixing beer with lemonade or lemon-lime soda. It’s a great way to lighten up a beer or stretch your beer consumption over the course of the flight. Ask for an empty cup (no ice), lemon-lime soda or ginger ale, and beer (preferably a lager), and pour in equal parts beer and soda. You can also top with a lemon wedge or, in a pinch, swap out the lemon-lime soda for orange juice or cider (usually available on JetBlue).
White Wine Spritzer
Wine spritzers and their several spin-offs have been going in and out of vogue for over 100 years. They’re also one of the easiest mixed drinks to hack from the beverage cart and can be made on any flight that serves alcohol. Simply order a glass of white wine (drier wines like chardonnay or pinot grigio work best), soda water, cup with ice, and wedges of lemon and/or lime (or get some True Lemon/True Lime packets). Fill your cup of ice with two-thirds wine and one-third soda water and then squeeze a wedge or two (or empty a packet of True Lime/True Lemon) on top. If the flight doesn’t have any type of lime or lemon, just sub-out the soda water for lemon-lime soda and make yourself one of the spritzer’s biggest spin-offs: a wine cooler.
The French 75 just might be one of the craftiest cocktails you can hack on a flight, though it feels decidedly less fancy to drink it from a plastic cup rather than a flute. C’est la vie–you can’t have it all. To pull this off, you’re going to need a cup (no ice), gin, sparkling wine or champagne, three lemon wedges (or one packet of True Lemon), water, and a packet of sugar. Start by dissolving half of the sugar packet in a splash of water to make a quick simple syrup and then squeeze in your lemon wedges or add one True Lemon packet and mix. Pour in one part gin to two parts sparkling wine or champagne, mix, and celebrate (by taking a sip).
Moscow mules became all the rage a few years ago and some airlines may even still carry their mule mixers onboard. If they don’t, fear not–these are easy drinks to hack out of the drink cart (though they will lack the kick from the ginger beer found in a traditional mule). Get yourself a cup with ice, vodka, ginger ale, and either two or three lime wedges or one True Lime packet. Fill the cup two-thirds full of ginger ale, top it off with vodka, and squeeze the lime wedges or mix in one packet of True Lime.
INSIDER TIPSince this drink works best with very cold vodka, don’t be afraid to put your vodka on ice (in your cup) for a few minutes before mixing to bring it down from room temperature.