As a frequent flyer in a pre-coronavirus world, my boarding process is strict and intentionally simple. Stow carry-on within five rows of my seat. Backpack secured under the seat. Jacket shoved on top of the bag. Water bottle placed in mesh seat-back holder. AirPods in. Hat refastened. Seat belt attached. Bladder emptied. I will not move from this seat for the entirety of my flight.
Now that I’m settled in, listening to an episode of Seek Treatment pre-downloaded to my phone, I can complete my final step: find the gay flight attendant to hit on.
When a gay man boards a flight, you have to check for your brothers in the Boeing 737. What’s more, there’s a longstanding belief that a gay flight attendant will generally give you free drinks on the flight.
How do you know who to look for? Maybe they’ll give you the up-down as you move from first class to your assigned 22D seat. Look for the faded hair, too-tight suit vest and over-groomed eyebrows. That’s when you know you might be able to join the Mile Hiiiiii Club.
After all, we’re two gays trapped in a metal tube hurtling 500 mph in the air. It’s expected there might be some flirtatious back-and-forth — climaxing in a free whiskey coke with a single ice cube. (By the way, stay far away from airplane ice.)
As much as I appreciate this unspoken bond, the economics of free drinks for the gays never made sense to me. Could flight attendants really dole out Bacardi shooters and Mai Tai pre-mixes like it’s happy hour in the West Village?
Concerned about the bottom line of the airplane industry (and, if I’m being honest, looking to stroke my ego as a hot gay frequent flyer), I asked a slew of gay flight attendants the very simple question: What is the likelihood a gay flight attendant would give me, a random gay passenger, free drinks?
Much like the airplane industry during the pandemic, my ego came crashing down. “I usually don’t charge anybody for drinks unless they’re rude to me,” Preston, an attendant for American Airlines, tells me. (Are you fucking kidding me, Preston? You’re telling me I didn’t need to put on pants for a five-hour flight? I could’ve been one of those sweatpants-and-neck-pillow flyers and still have been in your good graces?)
Sure enough, a quick Google search informs me that Delta, American Airlines and Virgin all serve a limited selection of free alcohol when flying. That usually means a watered-down Tito’s soda or lukewarm Samuel Adams.
What about airlines that don’t offer complimentary alcohol? Dylan, a gay flight attendant for a major airline, tells me most flight attendants can comp for select passengers. A manager is rarely monitoring in-flight transactions. “Ring this in as a comp and say you’re military. Who is gonna check?” he says.
While most major airlines don’t profit from alcohol (and, yes, you can bring booze on a plane), attendants can make a commission on food sales. So don’t expect a free ice-cold chicken caesar wrap. “I don’t care how cute you are — if you want a sandwich, you’re paying full price,” Dylan says.
Just like a night out at the Rosemont, the overly confident gay convinced they’ll get your number will not get special treatment. Zane Gregory, who works for American Airlines, once had a passenger respond “I can’t just have it for free?” after being charged $9 for a drink. “If a passenger is being entitled or snobby, I won’t get curt or snide. I’ll just go by the book, because sometimes you can tell they will just hate that they can’t get something for free,” Gregory says.
So why do flight attendants even feign interest in us thirsty gays looking for a free drink? There’s always the chance they could meet their Robert Kardashian, of course. There’s an unconfirmed rumor Kris Jenner met her first husband on an American Airlines flight when she was working as an attendant.
If you’re not a famed Hollywood lawyer but still want to make sure you’re making a good impression, hand the flight attendant a gift. Gregory suggests paying for something small you can get at the airport — like lifesavers or candied chocolate. “It’s going to be the cheapest happy hour you’ll ever have,” he says.
A free drink, though, is rarely an invitation for a first date. Even if a flight attendant accepts your phone number written on the tiny airplane napkin, they likely won’t give you a call.
As Dylan puts it, no amount of free drinks are worth dealing with a long-distance relationship. “I live in New York and you live in Nashville,” he laughs. “I’m not going to follow through with that.”