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As recently as a few years ago, if you wanted a beer on your flight, your choices were usually limited to the flavorless, big-brand beers from Busch and Miller. But with the meteoric rise of craft beer, airlines have become wise to the trend, and have begun stocking beers that will appeal to almost any connoisseur.
Airlines have long boasted about recruiting wine sommeliers to build their menu of vino offerings, especially for business and first class, but they were neglecting beer lovers. I first researched the beers served on domestic airlines in 2011, and found that only Alaska and Virgin America served anything that could be considered craft beer at that time.
The production of craft beer in the United States is at an all-time record, both in terms of the number of breweries and volume produced. Because of this, beers are easier than ever to distribute at a level that airlines need to stock their fleets. When researching what is currently on the menu, I discovered that airlines have advanced their servings for the more discerning beer palate.
Let’s take a look at the current beer offerings on U.S. domestic airlines, along with how they’re scored by the popular beer-rating site, Beer Advocate.
Alaska Airlines serves Alaskan Amber (82), Alaskan Freeride APA (85), Kona Longboard (77), Bud Light (48) and Heineken (67). Average score: 71.8.
American Airlines pours Samuel Adams Boston Lager (86), Budweiser (58), Bud Light (48), Dos Equis (64) and Heineken (67). Average score: 64.6.
Delta Air Lines offers Blue Moon Belgian White (78), Heineken (67), Miller Lite (55), Samuel Adams (86) and Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale (82). Average score: 73.6.
Frontier Airlines serves Fat Tire Amber Ale (82), Heineken (67) and Coors Light (51). Average score: 66.6.
JetBlue is the only airline with a cider, Angry Orchard (43), Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale (81), Bud Light (48), Harpoon UFO (82), Heineken (67) and Samuel Adams Boston Lager (86). Average score: 67.8.
Southwest Airlines offers Bud Light (48), Miller Lite (55), Dos Equis (64) Fat Tire Amber Ale (82) and Leinenkugel’s Cranberry Ginger Shandy (77). Average score: 65.2.
Spirit Airlines pours Bud Light, (48), Budweiser (58), Miller Lite (55) and Dos Equis (64). Average score: 56.25.
United Airlines serves Budweiser (58), Miller Lite (55), Goose IPA (83), Heineken, (67) and Samuel Adams Winter Lager (82). Average score: 69.
Virgin America serves Anchor Steam Lager (87), as well as Bud Light (48) and Heineken (67). Average score: 67.3.
The winner is Delta Air Lines!
Alaska Airlines would be even higher if not dragged down by the lousy Bud Light. JetBlue would place second, scoring 72.8 if we didn’t account for the score of Angry Orchard Cider. Southwest used to rank last, but improved with the additions of Fat Tire and seasonal Leinenkugel’s beers over the past couple of years, and their prices are the best in the sky at only $5 each. Spirit ranked dead last, eight points behind their nearest competitor, American. Spirit’s beers are only $6 each, and they offer a deal of two for $10 or three for $14, which you might need while subjecting yourself to their industry low 28-inch seat pitch. United charges $7.99 for their two craft offerings — the priciest of the bunch.
Airlines have done a lot over the past few years to improve your flight experience, largely due to profits realized from lower jet fuel prices and add-on fees like checked baggage and seat selection. The availability of craft beer is among those improvements, so you can now enjoy a good beer while sampling the myriad of available entertainment options or working on that TPS report while using Wi-Fi. It’s a win for all passengers, regardless of your overall feelings about air travel.
EDIT 4:16 p.m. ET 12/22/15: A mathematical error originally gave the win to Alaska Airlines rather than Delta. This has been corrected.