The best cocktails to enjoy when you’re flying

Next time you scan the inflight cocktail menu, these are the mile high tipples worth setting your sights on.

By Chris Ashton, April 9 2024
The best cocktails to enjoy when you’re flying

Sipping Bloody Marys at 40,000 feet is an experience long-relished by frequent flyers. On top of delivering a hearty dose of your daily veg, it’s one of the best cocktails you can order in the sky too – for a very simple reason.

As is the case with all inflight food and drink, altitude changes how you perceive flavour. Taste buds become as much as a third less sensitive in the dry cabin air, while fragrance – an essential part of the tasting experience – is pushed to the background. 

However, in much the same way as chefs work around this sensory dip by selecting the right ingredients to cut through and deliver a flavour hit, so too do mixologists and sommeliers worth their salt. That said, some menu choices are still better than others. 

So which cocktails are best suited to the high flying life?  

Fortune favours the bold (flavours)

Leaning towards drinks with a more pronounced body, like the classic Bloody Mary or an Aperol Spritz (even if those can be a bit much for you on the ground), is generally your safest bet.

The savoury, brothy ‘umami’ flavour profile remains unchanged by altitude, making the Mary an ideal choice. Tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce are packed with umami notes, so will taste the same in the air or at ground level.

Similarly, vermouth-based drinks deliver a range of flavours from bright citrus to complex spices. Sip over ice with a slice of lemon for a Dry or Bianco vermouth, or a slice of orange for Sweet or Rouge variations, and add a splash of soda for even more refreshment.

Sweet cocktails are best avoided in the air, as the flavour tends to taste a bit... off.
Sweet cocktails are best avoided in the air, as the flavour tends to taste a bit... off.

Gin and tonic is a solid choice too, though it depends on the style of gin offered. Herbaceous notes and citrus are always good. The bitterness of the tonic (which can be too much for some on the ground) is delightfully smooth in the air.

For those who'd rather avoid alcohol, just ask for a Virgin Mary or 'spicy tomato juice' – you'll get the same delicious flavour, without the vodka.

Margaritas stay on the ground

As you can imagine, there’s no room for subtlety in the sky. Nuanced cocktails, such as martinis, are going to feel flat and one-dimensional at altitude. The delicate florals and citrus are simply lost on the nose and, as a result, drinks taste mainly of alcohol.

At the same time, some flavours can become more prominent, throwing carefully-crafted mixes out of balance.

Emirates' A380 bar menu is specially designed to deliver a flavour hit in the sky.
Emirates' A380 bar menu is specially designed to deliver a flavour hit in the sky.

Margaritas and daiquiris are subject to this overload, especially where citrus is concerned, so it’s best to save those for the airport lounge. (An exception is Singapore Airlines’ Grand Pineapple Daiquiri – the blend of white rum, Cointreau and pineapple juice remains divine.)

If you’ve just gotta have that classic martini, ask for it to be served in a wine glass to help concentrate the aromas and rebuild the drink’s true character.

For a good time, make it breakfast martini time

Another option to consider though is the breakfast martini (which needn’t be limited to one time of the day) or an espresso martini, both of which you’ll find at the Emirates A380 bar. While martini is in their name, they’re not really ‘martinis’.

Emirates’ breakfast martini is made from gin infused with bittersweet marmalade, a dash of lemon, Cointreau and a splash of fresh orange juice. The sweet and sourness work in harmony, which is no doubt why it remains a perennial favourite.

The Bloody Mary has long been the go-to for frequent flyers.
The Bloody Mary has long been the go-to for frequent flyers.

If in doubt, experiment. Everyone’s palate is different, and what works for one may not for another. Order a couple of cocktails and see which you prefer (you don’t need to drink them both). A scoring card is optional.

Or, for a safer bet, simply stick with wine – the Executive Traveller guide to picking the perfect wine for your flight will steer you in the right direction.

30 Jun 2020

Total posts 3

A Singapore sling on a day flight to Changi is perhaps one of life’s greatest joys! 

09 May 2016

Total posts 18

Any flight over 10 hrs stay away from alcohol. You will feel much better on arrival

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 712

Now listen folks, we shouldn't just take Chris' word on this subject matter.  A detailed and thorough analysis is required and this must begin with a sampling of these drinks on the ground BEFOE going airborne.  I'll lead by example, tomorrow, with the 'breakfast martini'.  Other players needed for the other drinks listed.  It's a mixed sport, both genders should feel free to participate.  :-)

I admire your commitment to the cause. Report back. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 712

🍹  Here we go.

17 Nov 2023

Total posts 17

Sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, cocktails lost all their attraction when they stopped having a blender at the bar.

Nothing best pineapple or banana daiquiris, but you need a blender to make them.

Another good one is this 2 shots each of Bailey's, Cointreau and Kahlua, some cream and a banana and blend with ice.

YUM YUM.  Just like a chokky milkshake, only alcoholic! :)

04 Sep 2022

Total posts 6

Don't get the bloody mary on Qantas. It's a premix and flavour is awful and  can't be adjusted to taste.


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