Why Can’t I Have My Own Can of Coke on the Plane?

Clinging to all my in-flight perks like...

In a world where even water isn’t free on some airlines, it’s important to keep track of the perks that you do have: the ability to push your seat back a quarter of an inch, to watch Booksmart without all of the lesbian scenes edited out, and to sometimes get treated to a gratis in-flight soda–if you haven’t booked Bare Necessities Economy.

If you’re really lucky, the flight attendant will pour that soda over ice and leave the can behind like manna from 30,000 feet. But our question is, why don’t they do that all the time? Are they punishing you for not splurging on a $20 bottle of soda at Hudson News? Is it against airplane regulations for you to not only have something for free but also get a reasonable amount of it? Or is there something else going on?

In our endless search to get the most out of our flying experience in a decade of cutbacks, we did a deep dive into airlines’ beverage policies to find out.

It All Boils Down to the Numbers

So, here’s the deal. Airplanes only have a set number of beverages onboard when they head out for their first flight of the day. They determine how many cans of soda they bring on board using several factors: how many passengers will be flying, how much space the plane has in the galley (this depends on the model), and how many flights that plane will take that day—commercial airlines can fly as few as one or as many as five flights per day.

No flight attendant wants to have to tell several dozen passengers that they won’t be getting their caffeine fix.

Restocking planes with soda, snacks, and other amenities takes quite a bit of time, which airlines don’t have a lot to spare. So, to save time and money, they limit the number of times they restock.

If you’d like to see what a flight-bound pallet of soda cans looks like, check out this hilarious video of a beverage cart gone rogue at O’Hare International Airport. Those blue pallets you see strewn all over the tarmac are usually destined for the plane’s galley.

The more segments that a plane (and its cache of sodas) has to fly, the more they’re in danger of running out. There’s only so much room for soda and sometimes, everyone on the plane wants a Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi if you’re on one of the airlines that asks “is Pepsi OK,” but that’s rare), which puts flight attendants in a sticky situation.

No flight attendant wants to be in a position where they have to tell several dozen passengers that they won’t be getting their caffeine fix. So, to be on the safe side, especially during the first few flights the plane has that day, flight attendants fill your cup to the brim with ice (ice is also cheaper than soda, that’s why you get so much) and add just enough soda to fill up the cup.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive (But You Might Not)

If you’re having a particularly rough flight and you feel like you’re owed a full can of soda, feel free to ask for one. But know that you might not get it.

If your flight attendant is worried about making the soda last through the segments they’re flying after yours, they might say “no.” Flight attendants know that your request for a full can may put your neighbors in the mood for asking for their own full cans, which could put a big dent in the supply.

There is one way to slightly increase your odds of getting a full can of soda: sit toward the back of the plane. When you’re the last to get served, flight attendants have a better idea of whether or not they’ll have extra cans to spare. So, if you do feel the need to ask for a full can of soda, this is the best time to try your luck.

If you have been refused a full can and still need more soda, you can always ask for a refill. But, be merciful when using the call button to request one. When there are over 200 passengers on board, ringing the call button three or four times to request a soda is going to make your flight attendant’s already-difficult job even more difficult.

You Can Always BYOS

We get it, sometimes it’s the little things that make a flight better. If you really want to enjoy a full portion of something fizzy, you can always buy your own $20 bottle in the store near your terminal. It won’t be free, but after your flight attendant portions you out your tiny allotment of beverage and disappears down the plane, you can pull your full bottle out of your carry-on and refill your own glass. And, when your chatty neighbor asks you how you got it, tell them you’re part of the Hudson News upgrade club.