A few months ago, I was violently hungover on a flight, squeezed into a middle seat between two very large men who were both using the armrests—a crime that ought to be punishable by death. I was sweaty and achy, so when the beverage cart came around, I ordered a mint tea like I usually would to keep my stomach settled. But then, the burly man on my right order a tomato juice on ice.
Even though it hurt to move my head, I turned to watch the flight attendant scoop ice, expertly pop the pull tab on the can, and pour a glass of the thick, red, pulpy liquid. Miraculously, my desert-dry mouth began to water. Never in my life had I been so jealous as when the attendant passed that plastic cup of tomato juice over my head—and I had never even consumed a glass of tomato juice without vodka in it before.
I spent the rest of the flight physically hurting watching that man nurse his tomato juice. His tiny sips (I imagined them as bright, invigorating bursts of flavor and wonder!) mocked me, headache-y and squished with my stupid, lukewarm tea. But once we landed, my intense, unforeseen pang for tomato juice slipped away into the night.
A few weeks later, I found myself on another airplane, and as the beverage cart rolled toward me, it struck me that I was about to order my first airplane tomato juice. And let me tell you: It was delicious. Powerful enough to mute the crying baby two rows down and restore the chair in front of me to its neutral, un-reclined position. Airplane tomato juice is refreshing, savory, and substantive. It is a little sweet right until the ice starts to melt, and slightly watered down, it is just right. It doesn’t dry out your mouth like sugary soda, and it is a rich, uplifting complement to bone-dry airline pretzels. I cannot imagine flying without a glass of my darling tomato juice ever again.
I thought I’d made a life-changing discovery, too—until I googled it. Turns out I truly did not. Amelia Earhart was on record in 1936 as saying tomato juice was her favorite airplane drink, for god’s sake. A 2016 L.A. Times op-ed called people like me members of the “Mile High Tomato Club.” This is all to say, tomato juice is pretty much the most basic airplane beverage order one can place. And the reason for it is physiological. Studies show that both air pressure and flight cabin noises weaken our brains’ reactions to salty and sweet signals. However, tomato juice’s umami flavor is unaffected by altitude or noise, making it taste fresher and fuller than other drinks in flight.
Since my conversion to the Church of the Latter-Day Tomato Juicers, I have tried to spread the wealth to my loved ones, as any good cult member should. But everyone I told reacted in much the same way, saying something along the lines of: “Ew, gross, no, [insert inferior beverage name] is the only correct airplane drink.”
There are airplane choices that you have every right to judge your fellow passengers for, like removing socks or punching another passenger’s reclined chair repeatedly. But drinks? I don’t want to fight with anyone about airplane drinks. Drinks are a judgment free zone (save for the horrible old man next to me on a flight to New York this summer who ordered a vodka and Baileys). You’re crossing borders. Your taste buds are all out of whack. Who can say what time it really is, and what beverage is appropriate? I implore you to try tomato juice on your next flight, but in case you aren’t drinking the tomato Kool-Aid yet, here’s what my colleagues swear by instead.
A Pint of Budweiser and a Bottle of Water
Ever since I started flying into and out of St. Louis (home of Anheuser-Busch) to visit my in-laws fairly regularly, I've found that I can't bear a flight unless I've had a pint of Budweiser in the diviest place the airport has to offer before boarding, and then a big bottle of water on the plane. Budweiser is perfect because it's mostly water so you don't get dehydrated and feel headache-y at landing, but it's boozy enough to ensure a nice plane nap. To those worried about getting gassy or bloated on the plane, I say: You're on a freaking plane! You're going to be farting all the way to St. Louis anyway, might as well enjoy a beer. —Kelly Stout
Apple Juice (Or Any Other Juice That a Baby Would Drink)
Juice is for babies. You, over there, all the way in the back—hear me now? Big fat babies. So, it really isn’t a surprise to me that the only time I ever crave juice is on an airplane, the place where I’ve most felt like a baby since I was a baby. I’m strapped in a seat, I can’t really go anywhere, and I have to rely on a big mean adult looming above me for sustenance. I have an apple juicy—fuck, juice—every time I fly. It calms me down. Soothes me. Makes me feel… hey! Shush up. It’s nap time. —Brady Langmann
A Mini Plastic Bottle of Red Wine
The thing about plane drinks is that they are literally there to make flying, an objectively terrible experience for anyone further back than row 14, a little bit more bearable. That means alcohol. I personally always turn to red wine no matter what altitude I’m at, simply because it’s an easy order that doesn’t require ice, mixer, or the awkward question of “whether or not you want the can.” Wine also tends to hit me a bit faster than beer without having the potentially catastrophic results of liquor hitting too hard. Of all the drink options, red wine is the one that is the most straightforward. It needs no co-star. No follow up. Pour me a glass of whatever red blend you have in your mini-plastic bottle and let me get back to my podcast. —Justin Kirkland
Clear Soda, But Never Dark Soda
Here’s my mental taxonomy of sodas: Dark sodas are the big, sugary, unhealthy baddies; clear sodas are basically good for you because they look more or less like water; and anything remotely neon should never pass your lips. This system, mind you, is entirely unscientific, yet I won’t budge from it, and I’ll gleefully hold others to my subjective standards. By my logic, the best airplane beverage is Sprite, because it’s better for you than Coke and less boring than water. If you’re going to get a free beverage, it might as well be a fun one, but if you don’t want to crash due to sugar intake, walk your Coke craving back to a Sprite. At 35,000 feet, nothing is as refreshing as a spritz of artificial citrus. Don’t fact check me on any of this. —Adrienne Westenfeld
Cranberry Juice Over That Special Airplane Ice
I always go with cranberry juice on airplanes. Don’t ask me why—I never drink the stuff otherwise (and no, I don’t have a UTI). Something about the chemical sugary-ness of red cranberry cocktail from a miniature soda can just hits the spot for me when I’m a mile above sea level. I always ask for it with ice. You know, that thick airplane ice with the big hole in the middle. The combination of sweet and sour feels good when I’m floating in the middle of the sky, trying to quell my primal fear of death. —Dom Nero
Water, and A Lot of It
There is only one thing that should be consumed while on an airline flight: water. (Preferably your own.) That’s it, full stop. I know it seems “fun” when someone hands you a free bag of pretzels and even better when they have a full cart of freebies like juice, soda, other juice, and other sodas, but honestly, you need to get out more and discover something actually entertaining. There’s a reason for my curmudgeon-like approach: I used to really struggle with jet lag when I traveled anywhere via a long haul flight, and while my sleep patterns weren’t fucked up with domestic flights, travel bloat usually soured my mood upon landing. When I switched to just water—a lot of “just water”—both those problems went away. (You’ll find support for this argument from much more scientifically informed people than me in plenty of places on the Internet.) It may be less fun, but boy is it freeing. —Madison Vain
Nothing At All
I don't drink on airplanes if I can help it. If I'm drinking, I'm not sleeping, and if I'm not sleeping, then I've somehow developed a superhuman ability to stay awake on airplanes that I do not currently possess. If I order a drink, then I have to put the tray down, which means I can't cross my legs, which makes sleeping uncomfortable. If I order a drink, then I'll likely have to pee. So you see, the only solution is to take a couple baby sips from my refillable plastic water bottle, which I store under the seat, to keep from completely drying out into a husk. But gun to my head, then I'd order ginger ale without ice. For the tummy. —Sarah Rense
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